MARGATE — Bob Naumchik, of Galloway Township, discovered outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now he can’t get enough of it.
“It’s beautiful,” he said as he ate outside at Bocca Coal Fired Bistro at North Essex and Ventnor avenues Wednesday with friend Steve Sprague, of Linwood. “A lot of people discovered a lot of new things because of COVID.”
The city helped out Bocca last year by closing a block of North Essex for the summer, allowing the restaurant to serve patrons outside at tables under a tent on the street near the intersection with Ventnor Avenue.
Last week, the city again closed the block from Oak Grove to Ventnor avenues to help Bocca recover from its 2020 losses. The restaurant has set up 16 tables under the tent, to add to the 60 or so inside.
Mayor Michael Becker said he and the other two commissioners are committed to helping businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is why they are closing the road again this summer.
Not everyone is happy about it.
MARGATE — The Margate City Commission has decided to close a portion of North Essex Avenue t…
“I just saw this for the first time today. I said, ‘Not again,’” Joel Garber said Friday evening. The attorney from West Berlin, Camden County, who owns a vacation home on North Essex in the block closest to Bocca, spends Fridays through Sundays here.
Garber said the city never notified him of the proposed street closing, as he believes it should have, so he never had the chance to object.
“Last summer I said, ‘There’s a pandemic.’ I didn’t have a problem with it, I was understanding,” Garber said. “But I have an issue with a private business getting public space now.
“Are they going to let other restaurants close streets?” Garber said of the many others that lost money last year.
Bocca is unique, Becker said, in that it doesn’t have a parking area or other empty ground to use for outdoor seating, as other restaurants in town do.
No other restaurant asked for a road closure this year, Becker said.
“Since we had some questions and made some concessions (on music and parking), I have heard no complaints,” Becker said. “We went through the weekend, and my understanding is they stopped the music on time (8 p.m.) and stopped serving at 10 p.m.”
Asked how he felt about the street closing, Fran Ciociola, a seasonal resident in a home a couple of doors from the restaurant, sighed deeply.
“I just said it all,” Ciociola said.
His main concerns are about safety, he said. In particular, delivery trucks are not supposed to be using the block, but they do.
“Yesterday, we had an 18-wheeler,” he said. It drove past his home, and then “had to back down the whole street.”
That’s not safe for kids playing in the block, he said. He also worries about how ambulances or firetrucks will get access if needed.
There was no indoor dining allowed anywhere in the state last summer, and the outdoor tent allowed Bocca to survive, General Manager Lauryn Freedman said.
Freedman said the restaurant is making adjustments to minimize annoyances for neighbors after hearing complaints last year about noise and parking problems.
“We are ending the music at 8 p.m. this year,” Freedman said, compared with 10 p.m. last year. “It will be an earlier party type of scene.”
Farther down the street, Glenda Orlin sat on her porch as live music wafted through the air.
“If the music stops at 8 p.m., then I don’t have a problem with it,” Orlin said. She likes the fact that the road closure means less traffic.
Parking on the block will be limited to permit parking for residents, Freedman said.
Garber said he has not received a parking permit, and when he called City Hall on Friday, he was told no one was working who could answer his questions. He was told to contact police for a parking permit, he said.
The restaurant is not paying rent on the space, Freedman said.
“The governor put out a mandate that cities should help local businesses until 2022,” Freedman said, “after all of the loss we took last year.”
In February, Murphy signed a bill (S3340) that expanded opportunities for outdoor dining in the state through Nov. 30, 2022. It extended the effective period of permits issued under a special Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control ruling made last summer that allowed licensees to serve alcoholic beverages in some outside spaces.
Dennis Fisher, who is renting a house on the block for the month of June, said some residents have been circulating a petition, asking the city to stop the restaurant from playing live music outdoors. Fisher’s primary residence is just outside Philadelphia.
“This is not a kids’ town,” Fisher said as he sat on his porch with visiting friend Jim Victory, also from the Philadelphia area.
“To quote the people I talked to (about the petition), ‘I didn’t like “My Sharona” the first time I heard it,’” Fisher said, “’let alone when it’s played by some garage band.’”
Ashley Tumpowsky, of Princeton, was outside with her mom at the home they rent on North Essex a block away from the restaurant last week.
“Luckily we are far enough down,” Tumpowsky said. “We’ll have to see (if things are better this summer).”
She babysat last year for a couple with a 3-year-old child who lives near the restaurant, and last summer’s noise was tough on that family, Tumpowsky said.
Val Gerner, of Ventnor, was biking to work at Bocca down North Essex last week and stopped to talk about neighbors’ concerns.
North Essex is often used as a cut-through for drivers going to the businesses in North Margate, she said. They include Bocca, Hot Bagels and More, OceanFirst Bank and Liang’s Imperial East Chinese restaurant.
Having the road closed to through-traffic definitely cuts down on the number of cars using the street, she said, which she would like if she lived there.
“People need to slow it down — get out of their cars and ride a bike,” she said as she peddled away.
REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post