The pandemic kept people closer to home over the past year and that's a trend local businesses and town officials hope holds steady even as more people are vaccinated and life slowly returns to normal.
"We are looking to continue the ‘hey, let’s go to downtown Andover’ culture," said Ann Ormond, the town's director of business, arts and culture. “There’s going to be a different vibe downtown. There was last year and we want to continue that.”
Last summer, the town opened up its courtyards and streets to allow al fresco dining as the pandemic ravaged local businesses. This year restaurants are excitedly gearing up for an April 1 start to the summer open-air dining season.
BuenoMalo was one of the restaurants that benefitted greatly from the expanded outdoor dining. Being allowed to use the courtyard patio in front of their restaurant more than tripled their outdoor dining area, said Franco Lozano, co-owner of BuenoMalo.
"With the pandemic, people were anxious to get out of the house last year," Lozano said. "It didn't matter where we could sit people, wherever we could safely put a table they would take it."
The restaurant had always opened the patio for Cinco de Mayo. However, this year especially, Lozano knows there is ample demand for outdoor seating now.
The town's expanded outdoor dining service is one of the few perks of the pandemic, he said.
The other bright side to the past year is the restaurant's "pivot to digital ordering kept us afloat and more in the winter," Lozano said. Previously about 10% of orders were takeout at any given time pre-pandemic, but now it's more like 50%, he said.
Last summer, expanded outdoor dining brought new faces to Palmer's Restaurant and Tavern, said John Ingalls, the owner and chef. He is looking forward to welcoming them back after reopening his restaurant later this spring.
"I think that people really realized after last summer how enjoyable outdoor dining really is," Ingalls said. "It was always really good for us, but then with the (pandemic rules) we expanded into the parking lot, but that’s not suitable for permanent."
Ingalls plans to reopen later this spring after renovations of a wrap-around deck and interior updates are complete, he said.
Though restrictions are likely to loosen in the upcoming months as more people are vaccinated, Ingalls still foresees the need for maintaining distance between tables. His restaurant is uniquely suited for helping people get reacquainted with eating inside again because of the large space to spread out tables, he added.
The town is also working on an event called "Art up Andover," which will allow all types of artists to display their work. About 25 businesses have signed up to be paired with artists who will either display their artwork or perform at the business, Ormond said.
There will also be more outdoor events like the Andover Spring Bike Tune-Up, which is set for March 27. The town is creating a scavenger hunt that will help inspire families to learn more about bike safety and get ready for a summer of recreation, Ormond said.
The town is also in the middle of planning its 375th anniversary celebration, Ormond said. There will be events throughout the year to coincide with the May anniversary, including a mix of virtual and in-person events as health and safety precautions are loosened, she said.
"We need to bring people here together with music and art and great food," Ormond said. "We had a great product last year, and hope to have a better one this year."