by Joan Hellyer
New Hope is developing a new normal for itself since shops and restaurants began reopening in early June after coronavirus-induced restrictions were partially relaxed.
Nestled along the western bank of the Delaware River in central Bucks County, New Hope has long been a big draw for visitors thanks to its unique restaurants and shops and many performing and fine arts offerings.
However, like many other small towns throughout the United States and around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on much of New Hope for nearly three months. The town came to a virtual halt when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued the “Stay-at-Home” order for the state in mid-March to try to mitigate the spread of the often deadly coronavirus.
Business and restaurant operators, borough officials and community volunteers joined forces beginning in the early spring to prepare, primarily by remote, for the gradual reopening of the town. The reopening began on Friday, June 5, when Bucks County moved to the yellow phase of Wolf’s “Process to Reopen Pennsylvania” plan.
Restaurants are now offering outdoor dining services, in addition to curbside pickup and take out, according to state guidelines. Small shops are reopening, but must operate with reduced occupancy rates.
“People have been supportive of us,” said Jennifer Russo, whose family owns Russo’s Pizza on North Main Street in New Hope. “The community is very supportive of us. We can’t go backwards. We can only go forward.”
Within a week’s time, the borough’s business district was welcoming back hundreds of visitors most days, on par with pre-pandemic levels, town officials said.
“Everyone is happy to be out again,” New Hope Borough Councilwoman Laurie McHugh said on June 12. “Everyone is amped up.”
Visitors to the town’s business district are coming from near and far.
Joanna Jensen and Carmella Jankowski traveled from Lindenhurst, New York on June 12 to visit a friend in Bucks County and enjoy a riverside meal at The Landing Restaurant in New Hope.
“It was nice to feel semi-normal again,” Jensen said. “It was very good.”
McHugh, New Hope Borough Council President Connie Gering and borough Councilman Ken Maisel formed the Reopen New Hope Committee to help coordinate the town’s reopening. They held three virtual roundtable discussions with business operators, restauranteurs and chamber of commerce and community members to come up with a strategy.
During the third roundtable on June 4, the town officials said safety precautions are in place throughout the business district.
Maisel created signs for businesses to display that encourage customers to practice social distancing while visiting the town and to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We are going to get this thing right,” he said. “We are not going to disappear. We are going to be mindful enough to make adjustments.”
Visitors to New Hope also will likely be greeted in the days and weeks to come by workers and shop owners sporting specially-designed masks. The reusable cloth masks celebrate New Hope as well as the tourist town of Lambertville across the river in New Jersey.
The non-profit New Hope Celebrates created the masks and distributed about 4,000 of them to shops and restaurants in both riverside communities, said the organization’s president, Matt Hanson.
“I hope this helps you all,” Hanson said during the June 4th roundtable. “If we can take away some stress we will definitely do that.”
The borough is streamlining the process for restaurants to secure local approval to use their sidewalk and parking area spaces for outdoor dining, Gering said. The state also is streamlining its process for the restaurant operators to secure approval to serve liquor outdoors, she said.
Details about both efforts are available on the borough’s website newhopeborough.org. The website also includes information on which businesses in town are operating, at least on a limited basis.
New Hope has designated 10 areas along North and South Main Street and West Bridge Street as 15-minute curbside pickup locations for restaurant and shop patrons who are stopping by to pick up an order. An interactive map of the designated locations is posted at https://bit.ly/36YJ6tC.
Paid parking is available for shop and restaurant patrons. Officials assure the New Hope guests that the kiosks in the parking areas are being regularly disinfected.
In addition, New Hope’s visitor center is open on the weekends and includes access to public restrooms and a hand sanitizer station.
The reopening effort will be a “work-in-progress” for the weeks ahead, town officials said.
Another roundtable will likely be staged by the committee prior to Bucks County entering the “green phase” of the state’s reopening process, McHugh said.
“The compassion and true energy that we all have to help and guide New Hope has been uplifting,” she said. “All of us have the same goal, to keep everyone safe and get our local economy going again.”