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Retail’s reopening rollercoaster: “Confusion and hesitation and fear”

South Florida retailers could be forgiven if they needed a minute to process the news that Gov. Ron DeSantis had moved the state into its third and final phase of reopening.

After months of mandated closures amid a stop-start economy, the late September announcement meant that in Miami-Dade County, bars and nightclubs could reopen for indoor activity. While it allowed for up to 100 percent capacity, the declaration still came with regional restrictions. It also came just two weeks after the county mayor, Carlos Gimenez, said he didn’t expect to reopen bars and nightclubs until a vaccine was available.

Though the city of Miami allows unrestricted indoor dining — with tables spaced six feet apart — and does not require owners to submit a layout plan, a separate county order requires a plan to be filed.

It has been a chaotic seven months for retailers and landlords who have navigated a flurry of targeted orders and shutdowns. Some of those measures were aimed only at bars, others at restaurants, and some came from local authorities while others were handed down from the state and county levels.

“Being pulled back and forth, a lot of restaurants are now kind of timid,” said Omar Ali-Shamaa, a Miami attorney who represents restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues. “They’ve been through the ringer. They’re not rushing to make changes.” Ali-Shamaa, who is with Wolfe Pincavage, said the firm didn’t know if all its clients would reopen. Many restaurants also waited after the first reopening in May, when indoor dining was allowed at 25 percent, he said.

Marbet Lewis of Spiritus Law said her clients are “operating as if they could be shut down at any moment.” Lewis said the governor’s announcement to enter the third phase was necessary, but still radical.

“When the governor’s order first came out there was a lot of confusion and hesitation and fear,” she said.