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Outdoor dining reopens in upstate regions Thursday

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says outdoor dining can begin Thursday in upstate regions of the state that are now in phase two of reopening. 

Eateries in the Capital Region, central New York, the Rochester-Finger Lakes area, the Mohawk Valley, the North Country, the Southern Tier and western New York can reopen for outdoor dining, subject to safety rules.

The outdoor tables must be spaced 6 feet apart,  all staff must wear face coverings and customers also have to wear masks or face coverings when not seated.

Cities in upstate New York are facing severe budget crunches due to revenue losses, including from bars and restaurants, over the months-long shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Binghamton Mayor Rich David, who is the first vice president of the New York State Conference of Mayors, said the early reopening for outdoor dining is “very encouraging” news and will help regain some of the economic progress that cities have made in recent years.

“It will certainly have a significant impact,” David said. “The No. 1 contributor to New York state sales tax are bars and restaurants, so it will help the economy, it'll help local businesses and it'll help (our) finances as well. And, it will get people back to work.”

Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the state's restaurant association, hailed the announcement, saying in a statement that the association will hold up their end of the bargain by adhering to strict safety standards.

Bob Duffy, the head of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and an adviser to Cuomo on the reopening in the Finger Lakes, said that a number of restaurants locally are interested in having some outdoor seating.

"We understand their frustration, their pain, people I know who own restaurants, people (where I have been) a customer at their restaurants, they have been really pushed to the limit financially," Duffy said. "So this is just a welcome relief; you can’t make up what you lost for three months right away, but we hope over time they will."

Downstate restaurant owners and their patrons will have to wait a bit longer for the outdoor dining option. The Hudson Valley and Long Island are in phase one of reopening, and New York City enters phase one on Monday.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.