Schepisi bill would permit weekend safe-street festivals to help local businesses during shutdowns

Schepisi bill would permit weekend safe-street festivals to help local businesses during shutdowns

TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi says that it’s time to help small businesses such as retailers, restaurants and bars to reopen and flourish safely with the ability to sell goods, food and drinks in a safer outdoor setting during the summer months.

“Our local businesses need to reopen and they know that they can do it safely and effectively,” said Schepisi (R-Bergen). “It’s far past time to help small businesses which have been shuttered for too long.  We must reopen and revive our local Main Streets.”

After consulting with numerous business owners, mayors and local chambers of commerce, the Bergen County lawmaker crafted a bill allowing municipalities to establish a street fair model for local businesses to sell goods, food and beverages while maintaining effective and reasonable health guidelines.

“Holly has always been a strong supporter of our local business community and we thank her for remembering our important role in this community,” said Craig Kunisch, an executive board member of New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association and owner of Mahwah Bar and Grill. “I urge the Legislature to pass her bill and give our local businesses a fighting chance to beat not only this virus, but the threat we face every day from the shutdown.”

Schepisi’s bill, which has earned bipartisan support in the Assembly, would permit municipalities to designate certain days each week, from Thursday through Sunday, during which municipal and county streets in the business district could be closed to vehicular traffic and opened to allow restaurants, bars, and retail businesses to sell their products on the sidewalks and streets.

It would require the director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to extend plenary retail consumption licenses to allow sales in outdoor places. The special ruling would establish outdoor customer seating requirements in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which must be followed by the licensees.

“My legislation would also ensure that appropriate social distancing protocols and the use of personal protective equipment by members of the public and employees of participating businesses are required and enforced,” said Schepisi.  “For this to work best, it has to be done safely and responsibly to reassure patrons and employees that it is safe to work and shop.”

Other safeguards provided include that towns have alternative traffic options that will not force larger vehicles onto residential streets, as well as protections for pedestrians and those using public routes for non-retail efforts.

Finally, it would allow – but not require – municipalities to waive “blue laws” to permit Sunday street festivals.  Blue laws in Bergen County have been temporarily waived in the past, most recently by then-Gov. Chris Christie in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“I want to thank my colleagues on the other side of the aisle for their support,” concluded Schepisi.  “We need to get this passed quickly so Main Street can get back to work.”