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Diners experience pandemic life al fresco

The weekend of Saturday, May 16, was the first in quite some time that Farmville restaurants and other eateries across the state were able to serve customers via outdoor dining areas as a part of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s Phase 1 plan to reopen the commonwealth.Northam had previously restricted restaurants, breweries and other businesses to takeout and delivery methods.

Steve Graham, a co-owner of Walker’s Diner, said the business opened up Friday and had experienced steady sales during the weekend.

The diner had adjusted to only taking orders from a walk-up window, and adjusted its outdoor seating area behind the building to ensure seating remained at no more than half capacity, per the governor’s Phase 1 orders.

He said Saturday afternoon many people were enjoying the good weather and walking along the High Bridge Trail.

Recent Longwood graduate Caroline Serniak said she and her family had been walking along the trail when they smelled the diner’s food and couldn’t resist the urge to sit down and grab a bite.

Serniak said enjoying a meal at the diner was a way to keep her mind off the fact she wasn’t spending the day walking across the stage and receiving her diploma in person. She spent the previous night dining in the North Street Press Club’s outdoor seating area.

“It was so weird, sitting outside and seeing other people eating at a restaurant, because it’s so not normal anymore,” she said. “It’s something that I think we used to take for granted.”

The North Street Press Club co-owner Nash Osborn said Saturday the business had used its temporary shutdown to continue upgrades to the outdoor dining area that had already been in the works. The restaurant added bench seats and umbrellas and has been able to use its large outdoor area to space tables apart.

On Saturday, Phase 1 diners were able to order from a slightly smaller menu that also included the day’s specials. Two of those diners, Tyler Frohlich and Darrien Story, were in town to move Frohlich out of his apartment after completing his final year at Longwood. The two described themselves as essential workers taking the opportunity to enjoy a sit-down eating experience while still being conscious of health and safety.

“I’m just ready to get back to the other activities that we can’t really do yet other than eating out, of course,” Frohlich said.

“Like going to the movies,” Story said.

Like the North Street Press Club, other restaurants, such as Charley’s Waterfront Cafe, have been able to use the Stay-at-Home Order as a time to revamp indoor and outdoor dining areas.

The eatery has made some upgrades to its outdoor seating area, with plans to install roofing in the near future to provide extra shade and cover from the elements. Charley’s has also been using the closure of the dining room to do extensive cleaning of the restaurant. On Saturday, the renovated deck was alive with many tables of customers enjoying lunch.

Restaurants, diners and cafes aren’t the only Farmville businesses opening their doors for the first time in more than a month. Right underneath Charley’s, The Virginia Tasting Cellar had reached its half-capacity limit late that afternoon.

Farmville locals Tori Elmore and Daryl Lawson were enjoying a bottle of wine while gazing out at the riverfront. Lawson said he and Elmore came to the cellar all the time before the Stay-at-Home Order, and they had been waiting eagerly to revisit once restrictions were lifted.

“Being locked up has not been fun,” he added.

Customers were out enjoying the weather and a few drinks at the Three Roads Brewing Company on Third Street Saturday afternoon. Sales Manager Miles Sadler said the business had been hard at work during the closure to ensure reopening was as safe and smooth as possible.

The brewery temporarily removed high-touch objects like board games, popcorn machines and menus. Sections of the business were taped off to promote only going inside for ordering drinks or using the restroom. The business was also able to utilize its “beer garden” outdoor seating area to allow customers to enjoy their drinks and have fun while still maintaining distance.

Crystal and Tony Solomon, of South Hill, were enjoying a beer flight Saturday afternoon at the brewery. The couple said they’d been waiting for such an outing since the lockdown began.

Tony, a police officer, and Crystal, a mental health crisis worker, said going to breweries, wineries and local spots is one of the things they enjoy most. The couple was concerned about the effect of the shutdown on small and local businesses, stating that they’d already witnessed businesses in their area closing as a result of the restrictions.

Crystal said she felt no hesitancy in coming out during the first weekend of Phase 1, and that it was a matter of respecting others’ boundaries and practicing good hygiene.

A common theme Saturday afternoon was found in the form of several visitors to Farmville who had come to town as an escape from their more metropolitan homes.

Carrie and Michael Edwards, of Powhatan, were drinking beer and enjoying takeout from The Fishin’ Pig as they sat in the beer garden late in the afternoon. Michael said the outing was a chance “to do something normal again.”

Sisters Olivia and Isabelle Wong, of Blacksburg, were sitting at the single table outside of Uptown Coffee Cafe Saturday afternoon, enjoying lunch as shoppers walked by.

Olivia and Isabelle decided to stop at the cafe while their mother shopped at Green Front Furniture.