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The grand reopening: As restrictions lift, CRE markets race toward recovery

THE REAL DEAL — JUNE 14, 2021 BY SASHA JONES, LIDIA DINKOVA, AND ISABELLA FARR It wasn’t the pan-roasted halibut that drew a small crowd to Blu Mar on a recent Thursday afternoon.

One after another, guests on the splashy Southampton seafood spot’s outdoor patio removed the face coverings they had been wearing for the better part of a year and tossed them into a fire pit, which was then doused with fuel and set ablaze to the tune of “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps.

The gathering — convened just days after the CDC issued new guidelines that said vaccinated individuals could go maskless — wasn’t a protest so much as a celebration.

“The message was clear: Everyone must get vaccinated,” said Zach Erdem, owner of Blu Mar, which briefly had its liquor license pulled last summer over alleged violations of the state’s mask mandate, among other things.

With more than 138 million Americans fully vaccinated as of early June, Covid restrictions are quickly being lifted across the country.

In New York, indoor and outdoor capacity limits for most businesses, along with mask mandates for vaccinated people, were lifted May 19. California businesses will be free from capacity restraints on June 15. And though much of Florida had been open for business for months, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended all remaining restrictions with an executive order on May 3, two weeks before the CDC’s updated guidance.

While these orders afford business operators significant leeway over just how stringent or lax they want to be — in some cases, a level of ambiguity that has risen to confusion — retailers, hoteliers, restaurateurs and office landlords are broadly optimistic about a comeback. Still, major obstacles remain, including a dire shortage of service workers, a sobering outlook for tourism and an unpredictable office market.

Mavis Benson said she saw an immediate influx of visitors to her Avalon Gallery in Delray Beach, Florida, after the CDC’s change in guidelines.

“It was almost like someone flipped a switch,” she said.

Classic Hollywood eatery Musso and Frank was shut for more than a year during the pandemic. It reopened for dinner on May 6, when Los Angeles County allowed restaurants to expand indoor capacity to 50 percent.

.Now it’s preparing to go to full capacity on June 15, and it won’t be requiring masks or asking patrons for proof that they’ve been vaccinated.

To mask or not to mask?

Equinox’s mask requirements are emblematic of the shifting circumstances from state to state. In California, masks are required at all times at the luxury fitness chain, while in New York, those who are vaccinated can go maskless. In Florida, anyone can opt to work out without a mask.

It’s one of the many retailers across the country deciding how to best react to the reopening. The verdicts that businesses come to can be consequential, according to Rachel Kolocotronis of the hospitality consulting firm Elliot Group.

It’s one of the many retailers across the country deciding how to best react to the reopening. The verdicts that businesses come to can be consequential, according to Rachel Kolocotronis of the hospitality consulting firm Elliot Group.

“If this restaurant decides that they want to be a little bit more strict with their mask guidelines, they run the risk of being mistreated by the guests,” Kolocotronis said. “If they want to be more lax with their guidelines, they run the risk of guests not feeling comfortable enough to dine there.”

Three South Florida businesses The Real Deal spoke with said employees are required to wear a mask, but not patrons. Even so, most customers are opting to keep masks on.

“I think wearing masks probably is going to be part of our society for a long time in our future,” said Stephen Bittel, chair of Terranova, which owns retail and restaurant property along Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road and Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile. “People are going to do what they need to do to feel comfortable re-engaging in the communities.”

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