The grand reopening: Darien businesses prepare to open after COVID-19

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

While Andrew Stefanou Salon & Spa in Darien has been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, owner Andrew Stefanou has not been sitting still.

“We have been getting ready the whole time we were closed, to reopen again,” said Stefanou, in regard to the eight-year-old business.

“I was here every single day, preparing the place,” he said. “We were anxious from day one to get back to business.”

Andrew Stefanou Salon & Spa is one of the businesses now getting ready to reopen after learning of the recent announcement by Governor Lamont. As per the announcement, on May 20, some businesses will be allowed to reopen if the positive disease trends continue, on a limited basis and with proper protocols to be announced.

 Restaurants — outdoor only, no bars

 Retail not open as “essential”

 Personal Services —on limited basis just hair and nail

Creating space

Over the past few months, Andrew Stefanou Salon & Spa has completely reconfigured its space with the goal of creating a safe environment and respecting social distance requirements.

“On the styling floor, each stylist will be using every other station, skipping a station in between, which allows well over six feet of space between stations,” he said, estimating there are about 10 feet between stations.

Also, there are three new private pedicure rooms, one for each client.

Additionally, work is in progress of an additional area that will add another six stations to the existing color room, as well as additional shampoo sinks.

“All our stylists as well as clients will be required to wear masks, and our stylist will also wear face shields. Our manicure tables will have a plexiglass divider between client and manicurist,” Stefanou said. “There will be a person at the door to welcome clients, test their temperature and make sure they have masks, if not we will provide. Additional employees will be present to thoroughly clean and sanitize chairs and equipment between each client.”

Staff, while out of work, were required to take classes and be certified in sanitization procedures such as Barbicide sanitization.

For the entire time they have been closed, the salon has continued to take appointments “because we didn’t know when we will be able to open,” Stefanou said. “Every week, we call the clients and transfer them over. Some of my people are already booked through July.”

Stefanou transferred the store’s business phone to his cell phone, “and I had the phones ringing on my cell phone all the time.”

The salon will extended its hours to accommodate people. They will be open seven days a week, and will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. several days a week.

“At Andrew Stefanou Salon and Spa, we are anxious and excited to return back to serve our community and do what we love best,” Stefanou said. “We love what we do and we miss being here.”

Coming back to work

“We are ready now,” Sandy Baldanza said, in response to Bistro Baldanza restaurant being able to reopen May 20.

“We’ve been operating with 80 percent of my staff still working, owner Sandy Baldanza said. “We can bring the other 20 percent back. They will be needed once we open the outside.”

The only staff members who have been furloughed were the runners and bussers.

Baldanza has reconfigured his patio to accommodate for social distancing.

“Our patio is 40 feet by 14 feet, so in normal times we have seating for 25 on the patio,” he said. “Now, we will reduce that to around 12 individual spots, with seven feet of space between each.”

He added that his business is actually only down about 15 percent from prior to the pandemic.

“Each week, it gets closer to normal volume,” he said.

“Before [the pandemic], we had no delivery, no curbside service or takeout,” he said

“When we started doing the hospital meals for doctors and other hospital meals for their families, take-out was maybe five percent of our business — a very small part,” Baldanza added.

Going forward, he said he expects take-out and delivery to become a normal part of the business.

He said the “added plus” is the business has been providing meals to those less fortunate through Corbin Cares.

Corbin Cares is an initiative that collaborates with local Darien restaurants to provide meals for the food-insecure in Darien and neighboring communities.

Despite the new set-up, he said he is still not sure how many people will be making use of the outdoor accommodations.

“It’s a problem in the sense that even though we are going to be open, I don’t expert a lot of people are going to go eat out,” Baldanza said.

Out of any other age group, he said he expects to see the highest turnout of millennials.

“They feel like they’re indestructable,” he said. “I would expect they would be going out as they saw fit, like it was normal.”

For those older than himself, he said he expects much more caution will be used.

Elvis Reyes, manager at Ten Twenty Post, is also preparing its outdoor seating accommodations.

The restaurant can fit 12 tables on its patio — seating 55 people, with enough space in between each.

All staff will be wearing gloves and masks. They’ll also be using Purell food service sanitizer for all the tables, each time they are used.

“We will be opening the patio and serving cocktails on the inside bar, and bringing them onto the patio,” he said

They plan to bring all of their workers that were furloughed, back to work.

“It’s been awhile people are out of jobs,” Reyes said. “I’m pretty sure they are happy to come back.”

“Whatever it takes”

Gina Zangrillo, owner of the Darien Sport Shop, said there will be a lot of changes in the store once it reopens to the public.

“We already put in place purchasing masks and gloves for all of our employees, much more frequent cleaning of high traffic areas,” Zangrillo said. “We also have a dedicated person to clean doorknobs and sitting rooms, benches and counters, an automatic front door, hands-free sanitizers in key areas, hands-free cash registers, and a contact-less checkout.”

In regard to social distancing, Zangrillo said she plans to adhere to state guidelines.

“They will probably allow us 10 people per 1,000 square feet,” she said. “The store is close to 40,000 square feet, so we have the ability for customers to stand six feet apart from each other.”

If the state limits the number of customers in the store, the Darien Sport Shop plans to have a staff person standing at the front door, counting the customers as they come in and out.

The store will also provide more private services, including FaceTime shopping. Then, when customers select the items they would like to try on, “we can put things on a rolling rack, bring them up to the fitting room door, hold them up, and customers can try them on,” she said.

A sales associate can also select the types of clothing customers are interested in and bring a selection of outfits that are in their size, into the store’s fitting room.

Staff can also bring items to customers’ cars. “They can pop their trunk and we can put it right inside to go home, and try on, and then return if they aren’t interested,” Zangrillo said.

Additionally, customers don’t have to leave their home at all. Aside from same-day shipping, staff can also personally deliver items to shoppers.

“We will do whatever it takes,” Zangrillo said. “We will be 100 percent ready.”

Masks for fashion

The Darien Sport Shop will be selling some lines of fashion masks for men and women, including ones for the summer weather.

Brands will include Johnny Was, Rails, Faherty and Greyson.

“They can be a fashion statement and complete people’s identity,” Zangrillo said. “They can reflect one’s personality, just like with other articles of clothing.”

Parking lots for outdoor seating

To assist restaurants with the new protocols, at its Tuesday meeting, Darien’s Planning & Zoning Commission discussed a proposal to allow restaurants to use their on-site and adjacent municipal parking lots for outdoor seating.

According to Olvany, this has historically been done by, and approved by the P&Z Commission for Bodega Taco Bar on Cinco de Mayo and the Darien Center Street Public House on St. Patrick's Day.

At Tuesday’s meeting, all members were in favor of the motion to allow a temporary restaurant outdoor seating amendment through Labor Day.

They agreed there would be no maximum number of seating restaurants could have. However, if commission members or Planning & Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg are not comfortable with the proposed number, they would bring it issue back to the commission, and it would be decided on a case by case basis.

In addition, members agreed the application fee for a special permit would be amended.

Baywater Properties developer David Genovese, who has several restaurants with outdoor seating as tenants, was in support of this proposal.

He said the outdoor dining-only aspect, from an economic point of view “doesn’t make any sense in reality for these folks. But that, coupled with take-out, we think could be psychologically important and helpful. We’d like to just work through it together and navigate.”

Genovese also spoke about the the building next door to the Sugar Bowl, Kirby and Company, which is now closed. Therefore, he suggested the Sugar Bowl could set some tables up in front of Kirby and Company to try to help them.

“To me, the key thing is helping these guys stay open, keep the lights on, keep the kitchen staff paid and keep the team intact,” he said.

Olvany said he hopes restaurants will start filing with the Planning & Zoning Commission immediately for the ability to offer outdoor seating if they don’t already provide it, and would like to offer it for the May 20 reopening.

“The first step will be to design a sketch for approval by the Planning & Zoning Department staff and health department, along with the Board of Selectmen and Fire Marshal, if necessary,” Olvany told The Darien Times after the meeting.

Additionally, in order to provide temporary outdoor alcohol sales, a state application will be needed that requires the town sign-off from Planning & Zoning, Health, and Fire Marshal departments, Olvany said.

Those dining establishments who wish to offer outdoor service of alcoholic beverages need local and state approvals. To fill out an application, which is free, visit, click Liquor Control Division, and then Applications and Forms. The name of the form is Patio, Extension of Use, And/or Additional Consumer Bar Application.

“The Darien Planning & Zoning Commission is committed to helping our retailers and restaurants in the process of getting back to business,” Olvany said. “We all have to work together, including tenants, neighboring tenants and landlords. I can't think of a restaurant that wouldn't be able to have the option available to them. Our Planning & Zoning director, Jeremy Ginsburg, and his staff will be ready to assist.”

Business survey

The town is spearheading a task force to help the Darien business community emerge from COVID quarantine. The group consists of members from town government, SCORE, the Darien Men's Association and the Darien Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses were recently asked to complete a survey so this group can provide them with resources for their needs and concerns, according to Susan Cator, president and executive director of The Darien Chamber.

“We will aggregate all the responses and take action from there,” Cator said.

She added that the Chamber is “really looking forward to our businesses getting their feet back on the ground so that we can all see our favorite shop owners again and enjoy our community which we all love so much.”

“We want to facilitate and do anything we can to help our business from the chamber perspective,” Cator said. “We will do everything possible to help our community feel safe together.”