Monday was like the return of an old friend who’d been away for too long.
As Massachusetts further loosened restrictions on its stay-at-home orders, many nonessential retailers and restaurants reopened their doors to customers for the first time in three months.
From Downtown Crossing and the Back Bay to South Boston, Dorchester, Somerville, and Cambridge, shoppers and diners started to trickle back into establishments. Some neighborhoods saw more activity than they had in weeks. And store owners, while welcoming back their customers, continued to adjust to operating amid the pandemic. While not quite business as usual, it felt much closer at hand.
“Everybody is excited to get back to work — we haven’t seen each other in months,” said Richard Finn, store manager at E.B. Horn Jewelers in Downtown Crossing. The staff were in the store Monday morning cleaning all surfaces and getting ready for their first round of customers.
At Boston Jewelry Exchange down the street, about 10 people were waiting outside at 11 Monday morning — standing a few feet apart and wearing masks — because the store was limiting capacity to one customer per jewelry booth.
Nearby, behind recently boarded-up windows, customers browsed shoes inside Foot Paths Lifestyle Footwear on Washington Street.
Three customers entered the store, and manager Julie Riley offered them all a pump of hand sanitizer. On the first day of reopening for retailers, she said, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
“We were unsure, but locals who knew we would be open are coming in,” she said. “I think it is going to take a while for the rest of downtown to open up.”
A few blocks over, Brattle Book Shop had a soft reopening on Monday, allowing customers to browse books in its outdoor space, keeping its three-story retail building closed. Owner Kenneth Gloss said he thinks it will “take a while for people to really come out,” noting that the boarded-up buildings did not make downtown appear inviting.
Gloss said he is taking the temperatures of staff daily and enforcing social distancing with stickers, signs, and caution tape. As at other retailers, reopening is new territory for the 71-year-old family business.
“I can’t say, ‘Well, in the last pandemic this is what we did,’” he said. “I think as we open, it will become very obvious what is working and not working.”
Elsewhere, it was fairly quiet but starting to pick up.
Many of Newbury Street’s retail stores remained closed on Monday, including Victoria’s Secret, lululemon, Valentino, Lush, and Urban Outfitters. But that didn’t stop pedestrians from walking up and down the street — in larger numbers than in weeks past — passing many stores that were still boarded up.
Claudine Lewis and Claire Kaplan ordered quiche and a salad for lunch at La Voile, sitting at one of the 25 tables the restaurant had open. After reading the menu on their phones, guests drank wine, dipped bread in olive oil, and basked in the 70-degree weather under the patio’s umbrellas, while servers in masks carried plates back and forth.
“We were like, ‘Oh my god, they are open, let’s support them,’” Lewis said.
“It feels like a sense of normalcy — when we walked up, we were so excited to see people sitting in a restaurant,” Kaplan added.
At the CambridgeSide mall in East Cambridge, perhaps a quarter of stores were open Monday morning, and staff and mall security — several riding Segways — appeared to outnumber shoppers.
But a steady stream of customers filtered through the mall, some just curious to see a familiar place in a slightly new light, others there on a mission.
“I just need some new clothes,” said Michael Congdon of Somerville as he waited in line for Old Navy to open its doors. “I don’t really like to buy things online.”
Rachel Lynn of Boston, in line next to him, agreed. Online shopping is a hassle, she said, and she’s been working this whole time at her job at a dental office. She needs new apparel for work.
"It’s desperation time,” Lynn said.
Still, other corners of the region looked largely unchanged.
The giant Assembly Row shopping center in Somerville was quiet, with construction workers and residents of the complex’s apartment buildings walking the sidewalks. Most stores remained dark, and the handful that were open were mostly sticking to curbside pickup.
Meanwhile, at South Bay Center complex in Dorchester, the parking lot was still packed outside of Home Depot and Target. But the other major retailers, including Marshalls, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Old Navy, still had boarded-up windows on Monday morning.
Zavion Sanderson, 18, of Dorchester, sat with a friend in front of the closed Nike Outlet store. He had been hoping it might reopen today. He’d spent the last few months shopping on Amazon, he said, and was eager to begin shopping in physical stores.
“There are more options online,” he said. “I’d rather have less options and spend less money.”
Despite being in a relatively dead retail zone, the staff at the 110 Grill, which sits at the end of the deserted line of storefronts, had reopened the restaurant’s patio. “Olive Garden and Applebee’s don’t have any outdoor seating, so 110 Grill is kind of the place to be right now,” said the general manager, Sydney Sturdevant.
As for restaurants that don’t normally have outdoor seating, well, some got creative.
The 99 Restaurant and Pub in Charlestown — a bunker of a bar and grill on Austin Street near Rutherford Avenue — sought city permits to put 12 well-spaced plastic tables on a strip of grass outside the restaurant. On Monday afternoon, a few regulars were enjoying bottles of Bud Light on folding chairs beneath sun umbrellas as traffic rumbled by.
It’s temporary; the restaurant plans to go back to indoor service in a few weeks, said manager John Coogan. But for now, it’s a way to stay open for loyal customers who are tired of takeout.
“We’ve got tiki torches up. Maybe we’ll get some plastic flamingos,” he said. “We’re making the best of this.”
Others restaurant owners, like Dan Kerrigan, of Steel & Rye in Milton, got more engaged in the process. Kerrigan had the restaurant’s designer map out a painted grid on his parking lot to give each picnic table its own 12x12-square-foot space. He said his customers were eager to come back, and so was he.
“To be outside and sit in the sun, and to have a meal and enjoy a glass of wine. It’s that sense of normalcy that’s been so missed,” said Kerrigan.
Yet some store owners said they were going through their own adjustment period, balancing being back at work with ongoing health concerns.
In South Boston, Danielle McClure was busy restocking her inventory at Neatly Nested, her decor and gift shop on West Broadway. She’d used the last few months to remodel her store, updating the shelving and putting in new antimicrobial floors that are easier to clean. “Despite having to let go of cash at a difficult time, it just felt right,” she said. “That was a priority, just making sure that people felt safe.”
Across the street on West Broadway, Michaela Bavis, the owner of Dew Luxe women’s boutique, had her hands full trying to get her store restocked Monday afternoon. The single mom of two kids was unpacking bags of trendy tops while also trying to keep her almost-3-year-old daughter from eating a bag of grapes that had likely been in the store’s fridge when she shuttered its doors back in March.
But Bavis said she was thankful to be there at all.
“I’m lucky to be part of this community, where everyone wants to support me as best they can,” she said. “It’s times like these that you realize how grateful you are.”
Janelle Nanos can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos. Tim Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan. Anissa Gardizy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.