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Turning the corner

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

O’Niell’s in Nob Hill opened its patio to diners during the last week of May. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Ask Jeff Trent what it’s been like this week as the Albuquerque restaurants he oversees welcomed diners back onto their premises, and he’ll have a quick response: “Insane.”

Trent, the operations manager for O’Niell’s Pub, said Friday that both the Northeast Heights and Nob Hill locations have been a pandemic-era version of “packed” in the last week as public health restrictions began to loosen in New Mexico – and spirits were high.

“It just seemed like people have quarantine fatigue and they were just desperate to get out,” Trent said.

New Mexico businesses that have been restricted by the state since the March outset of the coronavirus pandemic are starting to revive as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham loosens rules a little at a time.

On May 27, restaurants were allowed to open their patios to some diners. On Monday, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, salons and movie theaters were allowed to open with limited numbers and with stringent public health precautions.

Fitness centers, for example, are required to operate at 50% capacity with some amenities, including saunas and hot tubs, remaining closed. Some clubs, including Defined Fitness and Planet Fitness, have added extra cleaning stations and are requiring staff to do additional daily deep cleanings.

Business has been moderate at some gyms as some patrons are taking a wait-and-see approach. Others have been eager to resume workouts, however, and are taking advantage of the limited reopenings.

“We’ve had a good response,” said Aaron Lavender, general manager of Del Norte Sports and Wellness, which is asking members to use an app to reserve workout slots for the moment. “It’s not business as usual, there are a lot of changes, but our membership base has adapted well.”

David Flaming exercises Wednesday at the Highpoint Sports & Wellness location, two days after gyms were allowed to reopen with safety measures in place. (Roberto E. Rosales)

Trent said there was a bit of a learning curve for O’Niell’s staff.

“We’ve never been a ‘please wait to be seated’ restaurant, with the exception of St. Pat’s,” he said. “For us that was a new thing to wrap our brain around.”

The political climate has been a factor as well. Trent said Nob Hill location all but cleared out after 5 p.m. Monday amid fears that rioters – who took to the streets the night before after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protests died down – might return. And staff at the Heights location ejected a customer who became disruptive.

“They were actually offended that (restaurant staff) were wearing masks,” Trent said.

Bottles of disinfectant stand ready at Highpoint Sports & Wellness location, where members are having temperatures checked on entry.

Meanwhile, a customer at the Central location raised hue and cry over an opposite issue: that staff weren’t asking people to wear masks while sitting at tables.

“We want to be as apolitical as we can and just be guided by science and safety,” Trent said. “… (But) we’re not going to push the envelope in terms of taking unnecessary risks.”

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