City, Coronavirus, News

What’s open now while Massachusetts stands in reopening limbo

As college students from around the world return to Boston, many are eager to enjoy their favorite Boston businesses.

Restaurants and retail stores have been reopening their doors throughout the summer after initial coronavirus shutdowns, but many Boston businesses are not quite like students remember them.

All individuals over age two must wear a face covering in stores, on public transportation and when social distancing is not possible. Businesses can refuse entry to those who decline to wear masks without having a medical exemption.

In response to the pandemic, Massachusetts officials have put in place a series of precautions and regulations in accordance with Gov. Charlie Baker’s four-phase plan to reopen the state.

Boston is currently on the first step of Phase Three — the second-to-last stage — of the state’s reopening plan. The city moved to this phase on July 13, a week later than the rest of the Commonwealth.

After an uptick in cases and violations of state guidance, however, Baker indefinitely postponed step two of the phase.

Here is what that means for local businesses and citywide services.

Eating Out

Restaurants can currently open for outdoor and indoor dining, as long as they abide by the state’s restaurant safety standards. They must enforce a maximum party size of six people, have proper ventilation and sanitation practices, as well as set tables six feet apart or separate them with a protective barrier. 

Patrons must wear a face mask when leaving their table, and some restaurants require masks to stay on until after a server has taken the party’s order.

Takeout and delivery are available at many restaurants. This remains the safest way to “eat out” due to the reduced person-to-person contact.

Standing and sitting at bars is still not permitted, and all patrons must order food to be served alcoholic beverages.

Bars and Clubs

Bars that do not serve food will not open until Massachusetts enters Phase Four. Bars originally fell into Phase Three of the reopening plan but were pushed into the last phase in June, joining large venues and nightclubs.

Prior to Baker’s halt on reopening progress, some bars had served snacks in attempts to pass as a restaurant. At a press conference in early August, Baker said these bars were “masquerading” as restaurants.

Snacks like pretzels and potato chips do not meet the food requirement, Baker said, and serving these does not make a bar a restaurant.

Moving to the next stage depends on COVID-19 infection rates, hospital capacity and the successful development of a vaccine or effective treatment.


Essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies have remained open throughout the pandemic, while abiding by safety protocols. Nonessential retail, such as clothing shops and bookstores, were permitted to open in Phase Two. 

The number of customers inside a retail space must not exceed 10 people for every 1,000 square feet of indoor space.

Shops can allow lines to extend outdoors to avoid the risk of overcrowding, and the City of Boston has also temporarily permitted small businesses to set up tables outdoors on public and private property.


Fitness centers can open for both indoor and outdoor operation during Phase Three. They must comply with social distancing, hygiene, ventilation and disinfection protocols set by the state. 

Local officials encourage gyms to offer outdoor classes and training in order to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Beauty Salons and Barber Shops

Salons and barber shops have been open since Phase One. Across the state, these businesses have implemented social distancing protocols and set up barriers for protection.

Public Libraries

Boston Public Library branches are currently closed to the public. However, the BPL is offering ebooks, movies, TV shows and audio files through its online platform. The only thing users need for access is a library card.

For those who prefer physical copies of books, the BPL offers pre-orders for pick up at all of its branches.

The Public Computer Access program was launched Aug. 25 and allows individuals to schedule a two-hour appointment to use the Central Libary’s computers in a socially distanced manner. Nine library branches will also offer 24-hour outdoor WiFi access. 

Printing services at BPL are only available remotely at this time. Patrons can print up to 10 pages per day and must request the printing job 72 hours in advance to ensure the file will be ready on time.

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