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Businesses are taking different measures as the state opens up for business as usual after 14 months of pandemic precautions.

Business Owners Ease Into Lift of Pandemic Restrictions

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — You can now move freely about the state but not all businesses and organizations are throwing pandemic precautions to the wind.
Restaurants, in particular, seem to be taking a measured approach ranging from letting patrons and workers make their own decisions, to keeping some distance between seating to maintaining face-covering protocols.
Lantern Bar and Grill owner Bjorn Somlo is shutting down this week to give employees a "well deserved" recuperation time and to observe while the public adjusts to the lifted restrictions.
The Lantern's layout with about nine generously sized tables will not change besides the addition of spaced-out bar seats, as the setup has become favorable over the last year.
"We love the way it is, so we're going to actually keep it," he said Friday. "We would rather be a better smaller restaurant than just a busy one, and we like the spacing, we like the grace it gives, we like being communal and welcoming people to enjoy the chef's great food at their own leisure."
In North Adams, Baystate Hospitality's three venues — Freight Yard Pub, Trail House Restaurant and Craft Food Barn — will maintain table distancing and employee masking for the time being.
"We here have decided to still keep in place some of the restrictions," the restaurant group posted on the eateries' Facebook pages. "Such as our employees will continue to wear masks and we shall keep the dividers up for safety. We are going to proceed with caution as the state opens up although most of our staff is fully vaccinated." 
Ramunto's on Main Street in North Adams is taking a slightly different tack, posting that the pizzeria will not be requiring its all-vaccinated staff to mask but will make accommodations for customers who feel more comfortable if servers wear face coverings.
"Our goal here is to get back to what feels like 'normal' while also making our customers feel happy and content," the restaurant posted on Facebook.
All COVID-19 restrictions are largely lifted as of Saturday and Gov. Charlie Baker signed an order on Friday rescinding the 15-month public health on June 15.
Vaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear face coverings in most indoor or outdoor settings, and all industries will be permitted to open with capacity limits raised to 100 percent.
Though the restrictions lifted, many business owners are approaching the sort of "holiday" with caution because they have no way of gauging the public's comfort level in relation to COVID-19, which has killed more than 17,000 Bay State residents. 
Some residents look forward to entering public places without the barrier of fabric around their mouth and nose area, while others have grown accustomed to mask-wearing in the last 14 months of the mandate.
The Berkshire Museum will begin to welcome walk-in visitors and shoppers and allow groups of more than six individuals for the first time since it reopened in August 2020.
Vaccinated guests will not be required to wear masks, however, museum staff will continue to wear face coverings and strongly encourage all visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to do the same.
This is largely because many of the museum's visitors are under the age of 12 — meaning they are not yet eligible for vaccination — and they want to create the safest environment they can for museumgoers.
"There are a lot of changes that we implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that we are continuing on, we will continue to kind of monitor the situation and make move as necessary," Marketing and Brand Manager Kimberly Donoughe said.
"We're trying to stay in line with what the state guidelines are, as we have this whole time, we've really been staying in step with what the experts and others have advised."
Donoughe said the adoption of online ticket sales during the pandemic has been valuable and look forward to its continuation.
Somlo said he has consulted with his management team about maintaining a safe environment and has contacted other local businesses for input. 
He noted that this may be a stressful time for industry workers as they try and figure out their clientele's preferences and how to best serve them. Especially because this reopening is happening on Memorial Day weekend, he said, it is important to remember to be "patient, respectful, kind and decent to the people that are serving you."
Hospitality workers, similar to workers of other sectors, have not gotten a break from the pandemic and have worked through difficult conditions caused by it, he said. The Lantern's staff will have some time off between Saturday and reopening on June 8.
"Having worked this entire time and incredibly stressful situations, [industry workers] are having to work in probably a more stressful reopening as they're trying to figure out what the clientele is and how to best serve them," Somlo said.
"After all this intensity there's no reprieve, it's now another version of intensity, but we're also now very concerned about people being respectful of the staff that is no longer being supported by the state or the health board about their own safety."
On May 24, Guido's Fresh Marketplace owners Chris and Matt Masiero posted an announcement on their website outlining how the changes will impact the grocery.
All vaccinated staff and customers may go without a mask but those not fully vaccinated are being required to remain masked. Although they will not be asking for proof of vaccination, they trust everyone to follow the rules that will continue to keep the community safe.
Guido's will also continue to maintain capacity limits during some holidays and busy weekends as needed but will discontinue special shopping hours.
"This is a complicated moment. For over a year, masks have held a lot of power in our lives. What started as alien quickly became commonplace and even comfortable for so many. We've become wired to grab a mask before leaving the house, to intuit people's smiles as we pass them on the street, and to maintain a six-foot bubble as we move through the world," the Masieros wrote.
"We ask that everyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, masked or unmasked, remember to be kind and patient as we all navigate through this transition. We ask that you please try not to judge or make assumptions about others. If anything happens in our stores that makes you feel unsafe, please ask to speak with a manager."
Additionally, Evergreen hair and nail salon on East Street is easing into the mask removal, asking for "just a little bit longer" while it adjusts to the lifted restrictions.
"Believe me, we want these masks off just as much as everyone else, but we'd like to ease into it over the next few weeks," the salon's Instagram post read.
"Thank you everyone for continuing to wear them, and being patient with us, just a little bit longer."
Baker on Friday had urged residents to be mindful and respectful of people who are still leery of the novel coronavirus and businesses that wish to continue social distancing and other measures. The governor said if he is asked to wear a mask, he will.
"I think all of us need to continue to be what Massachusetts has been since we started this, which is be respectful of their friends and their neighbors, and to recognize that not everybody is going to be in the same place psychologically as everybody else," he said. "It's been a really hard, tough year for people. And I think that's something people should incorporate into the way they think about that if somebody has a business and they'd like you to wear a mask when you come in."
Disclaimer: iBerkshires staff writer Brittany Polito is a seasonal employee of The Lantern.

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Berkshire NAACP President Reflects on Juneteenth Origins, Plans Rally

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Juneteenth was celebrated Saturday for the first time as a local, state, and national holiday.  
The city of Pittsfield added the holiday to its municipal roster in May, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill making Juneteenth a state holiday last July, and President Biden signed a bill making it a national holiday on Thursday.
Berkshire NAACP President Dennis Powell spoke to iBerkshires about the origins of the date and its implications in modern-day society.
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