Dubbed "Seaside Al Fresco," a reference to the outdoor focus of the reopening of the commercial district, the first phase of the reopening limits occupancy of the district’s stores and restaurants, requires store patrons to wear masks, and includes liberal offerings of hand sanitizer at businesses and at kiosks around the town.

SEASIDE — Bicyclists crowded Central Square on Friday morning as the commercial district in the iconic Walton County beachfront town of Seaside on County Road 30A reopened under sunny skies.

The commercial district, a collection of unique shops and restaurants, had been closed for more than two months as the town’s founders and leadership, along with its business owners, grappled with strategies for addressing COVID-19.

It’s a particularly important issue for Seaside, according to Kerri Parker, executive director of communications for the Seaside Community Development Corporation, because the town attracts visitors from across the country, including places that have been and may still be “hot spots” for COVID-19. And, she has previously noted, Seaside serves as “downtown 30A,” routinely drawing large crowds of people.

MARCH 16, 2020: Seaside to temporarily close commercial district

“Seaside had to do something responsible” in working to help control the spread of COVID-19, Parker said Thursday.

Normally jammed with cars, Central Square has been closed to traffic as Seaside’s commercial district reopens. Now, tents outfitted with tables and chairs ring the square, with its amphitheater and green space, providing visitors with a shady place to wait their turn to enter one of the access-controlled businesses or to eat a meal.

Dubbed “Seaside Al Fresco,” a reference to the outdoor focus of the reopening of the commercial district, the first phase of the reopening limits occupancy of the district’s stores and restaurants, requires store patrons to wear masks, and includes liberal offerings of hand sanitizer at businesses and at kiosks around the town.

APRIL 28, 2020: PHOTOS: Seaside commerical district

The changes did not appear to be bothersome to visitors experiencing the first day of “Seaside Al Fresco.”

“Everything’s the same, except for the restaurants and (business) capacity,” said Joshua Walker, who is spending his vacation with his wife, three children and members of his extended family in a home just outside Seaside. The Walkers, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, visit South Walton County and Seaside each year, he said.

Walker’s assessment was shared by Jessica Dyer, visiting Seaside with her husband, Matt, from Memphis, Tennessee.

APRIL 20, 2020: Seaside commercial district won’t reopen April 30

“It seems very similar,” Jessica Dyer, a repeat visitor to Seaside, said as she and her husband stopped for a moment near the town’s post office. “There are a lot of people, hustling and bustling.”

Dyer also said she didn’t mind the precautions being taken at businesses. “Every business has its right to do what they need to do to keep customers safe,” she said.

Meanwhile on Friday, workers and owners of newly reopened Seaside businesses were optimistic — if also a tiny bit nervous — about their future in this tourist season.

MARCH 17, 2020: CORONAVIRUS PHOTOS: Seaside shuts down beach, businesses set to close

“It’s not like we usually do in summertime,” said Liuba Zakharova, who helps manage The Art of Simple, which offers an array of gift items, beauty supplies and other merchandise on Central Square.

But, she added, as far as customers are concerned, the masking and limited occupancy requirements don’t seem to be much of an issue.

“Everybody is very friendly and understanding,” she said.

APRIL 28, 2020: CORONAVIRUS: Seaside taking careful approach to issues of reopening commercial district

Zakharova and other workers at The Art of Simple kept busy following the closing of the commercial district by inventorying the store, handling online orders and other work, she said.

“It feels like we never left,” she joked.

Next door at La Vie Est Belle, a shop featuring pearl and leather jewelry designs, manager Amber Oglesby had a good feeling about the future, even after being open for just a half-hour.

MAY 11, 2020: Seaside sets phased reopening of commercial district to begin May 29

“It’s a positive feeling,” she said. “I think people are happy to be out shopping.”

The commercial district in Seaside has been closed down since March 21 as the town’s founders and leadership team took steps to keep the coronavirus from becoming a problem in and for the tourist- and locals-crowded town.

Town founders and leadership had initially set April 30 as the date for reopening, but a little more than a week before that deadline, merchants were notified by letter that the reopening would be postponed. The SCDC’s letter noted that “there is truly only one thing we know for certain, we must put health and safety first as a community.”

That approach remains a guiding principle even as the commercial district reopens, Parker said Thursday.

The town’s commercial center had been virtually silent since the March closure, with the exception of a few food-service businesses that remained open on a to-go only basis.

Friday’s reopening came after a three-day “soft-opening” during which merchants got used to the new ways of doing business, also giving town leaders a chance to preview how Friday’s reopening would work.

According to Parker, the soft opening produced some good omens for the reopening.

“Sales are good, and people are happy,” she said Thursday. One problem, though, Parker said Thursday, is the number of masks used by visitors. In advance of Friday’s reopening, the town ordered an additional 10,000 masks, she said.

!function(e,i,n,s){var t="InfogramEmbeds",d=e.getElementsByTagName("script")[0];if(window[t]&&window[t].initialized)window[t].process&&window[t].process();else if(!e.getElementById(n)){var o=e.createElement("script");o.async=1,o.id=n,o.src="https://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed-loader-min.js",d.parentNode.insertBefore(o,d)}}(document,0,"infogram-async");

Also being introduced as part of “Seaside Al Fresco” is a new approach to beach access, Parker said, as the town’s leadership has moved toward “elevating the experience” of a vacation in the town while also ensuring that the social distancing deemed critical to controlling the spread of COVID-19 is maintained.

(function() {'use strict';window.addEventListener('message', function(event) {if (typeof event.data['datawrapper-height'] !== 'undefined') {for (var chartId in event.data['datawrapper-height']) {var iframe = document.getElementById('datawrapper-chart-' + chartId) || document.querySelector("iframe[src*='" + chartId + "']");if (!iframe) {continue;}iframe.style.height = event.data['datawrapper-height'][chartId] + 'px';}}});})();

The town’s commercial beach accesses also reopened Friday, but with prohibitions against bringing personal chairs, umbrellas, tents and coolers onto the beach. Chair sets and umbrellas will be provided by Cabana Man, a beach service that is now managing Seaside’s beaches, and also will offer food and beverage service from Seaside restaurants.

Business wasn’t particularly brisk at the Coleman Beach Pavilion, where Cabana Man has set up, on Friday morning, but Larry Neville, owner of Cabana Man, said he expected things to pick up through the weekend, as more visitors arrive.

Neville said he hadn’t yet heard many complaints about the new access rules.

“A little,” he said, “from the kids (teenagers).”

(function() {'use strict';window.addEventListener('message', function(event) {if (typeof event.data['datawrapper-height'] !== 'undefined') {for (var chartId in event.data['datawrapper-height']) {var iframe = document.getElementById('datawrapper-chart-' + chartId) || document.querySelector("iframe[src*='" + chartId + "']");if (!iframe) {continue;}iframe.style.height = event.data['datawrapper-height'][chartId] + 'px';}}});})();