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SWFL businesses eager to fully reopen as Gov. DeSantis paves the way for Phase 3

It’s the news restaurants and bars have been waiting for months to hear. Governor Ron DeSantis cleared the way for them to fully reopen immediately.

That includes no fines for not wearing masks.

Restaurant owners and managers we spoke with say they’re relieved to, once again, have control over their businesses. They’re ready for some normalcy and to welcome you safely back.

“What that will mean for restaurants is there will not be limitations from the State of Florida,” DeSantis said Friday.

Without limitations and restrictions from the state, Beach Box Cafe in North Naples is going full steam ahead.

“It’ll be really great to have everybody back in here and not worry about the numbers,” said Nick Moiland, the cafe’s kitchen manager.

They’re opening to full capacity right away.

“The locals and everything around here have really worked with us really well with all the mandates that have been in effect and I just think everybody’s going to be really really excited to get back to normal for the most part,” Moiland said.

Phase three of reopening means caps on capacity are a thing of the past for businesses if they choose, and local governments can no longer close restaurants for coronavirus concerns or collect fines related to COVID-19 mandates.

“Everybody has an opportunity and right to work; every business has the right to operate the locals can do reasonable regulations,” DeSantis said.

This couldn’t have come at a better time for Beach Box.

“It being September right now, usually one of the slower months of the year, and then in October it picks back up,” explained Moiland.

Perfect timing as the restaurant and Southwest Florida get ready for season to begin.

Robert Fermin is back behind the bar at Rackem Spirits, ready to welcome back all of his customers, ready to let them act like people in bars act, ready to let everyone in.

“Oh it’s great,” he said of the new reopening order. “It sucked telling people to sit down every five minutes. People didn’t want to come out because of that and we had to turn people away.”

What he’s more excited about is less worrying and more serving.

“We were trying our best. We did a lot of things to make that happen but it’s just hard to enforce everything,” Fermin said.

From being completely shut down to opening at limited capacity, to then not being able to serve alcohol, to serving alcohol with no mingling — it’s been a big frustration for bar owners like Raimond Aulen.

“Then you got enforcement coming around and he thought, you need to do it this way, and they’re telling you you need to do it another way, and I don’t think it was ever really clear because it was like a moving target, constantly changing,” the 86 Room owner explained.

Aulen says it’s been a challenge.

“I had to cut back on everything,” he said. “You had to look at every expense and try to figure out a way to trim it, cut it, eliminate it.”

Bars are ready to be back…for good.

“It’s time for people to start making money and spending money,” said Aulen.

“Just not worrying if they’re going to come in here and say we’re not doing it right or urging us down again,” Fermin said.

But the executive order stems far past just restaurants and bars. Gyms and fitness centers are also allowed to operate at full capacity and theme parks can fully open with social distancing protocols.

Vacation rentals and hotels can operate normally, but of course, they must clean and disinfect often.

We spoke with many people in downtown Fort Myers who say they’re excited for restaurants and businesses to get back to a new normal.

“The restaurants are dependent on the businesses and the business is dependent on them, so I think it’s a natural thing and it should happen,” said Harvey Shuler.

The majority of people we spoke to are very happy businesses can operate at 100%, but not everyone is as comfortable. Some people told us they plan to continue limiting where they go for now.

Still, there were signs of celebration.

“We’re excited,” said Stacey Biro, bar manager at Cowboy Up Saloon. “We’re very excited. It’s been a long time for us.”

Cowboy Up Saloon has a sign at its business that say, “Finally 100% capacity.” There, Biro is preparing for her first weekend at full capacity, and she thinks it will be a busy one.

“We’re just happy to have everybody back and get back to normal,” Biro said.

Just down the road, Jasmine Fedoriv, the owner Mason’s Lobster Rolls, is already revamping seating

“I still want people to social distance in here, but I’m happy to put all of my tables and chairs back out,” Fedoriv said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity. That means movie theatres, bowling alleys, theme parks, concert halls, salons, even gyms all open with no limitations on capacity. But they must keep social distancing protocols in mind and sanitize.

Leon Shuler said he’s OK with it.

“Have restrictions like you should,” Shuler said. “But as far as the capacity, a business cannot operate unless they can operate at 100%.”

Nonessential travel can also resume.

In Naples, Inn on 5th owner Phil McCabe told us he’s happy with the new rules, but he does have his concerns about opening up too soon.

“I think it’s wonderful what the governor is doing, but I sure hope it’s the right decision,” McCabe said. “It could destroy tourism this coming winter, and that’s my fear.”

As everyone else is increasing capacity, Phase 3 does suggest that sporting events reduce capacity, but theme parks can return to normal.

Social gatherings are also included in the plans. The governor says those 65 and older should minimize their time in crowds.

Reporter:Rachel Cox-Rosen
Brea Hollingsworth
Dannielle Garcia
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