John E. Coraor. Photo courtesy of Heckscher Museum

Michael W. Schantz has stepped down as Executive Director & CEO of The Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, fulfilling a ten-year commitment. The Board of Trustees has announced that John E. Coraor, a former Heckscher Museum director, has been named Interim Director.

“We thank Michael for a decade of effective and thoughtful leadership that has continued to propel the Museum forward as a cultural and educational center on Long Island,” said Robin T. Hadley, Chair of the Board of Trustees. During his tenure, Schantz guided the Museum through its most recent accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums, and built a qualified and dedicated staff while leading the Museum into its Centennial year.

John E. Coraor was Director of The Heckscher Museum from 1988 to 2000, and is a current Board member. Coraor begins his role as Interim Director effective immediately. He has more than four decades of professional experience in art and cultural agencies, most recently as Director of Cultural Affairs for the Town of Huntington. He holds a Ph.D. in art education from the Penn State University.

“John’s extensive experience and close ties to the Museum will make this transition seamless. The staff and Board look forward to working with him as we move ahead with the Museum’s 100th celebration,” said Hadley. The Board has formed a Transition Committee to lead the search for the next Executive Director.

Danford’s was cited for violations by the New York State Liquor Authority July 4. Meanwhile, bars say current restrictions could suck any business they could have during reopening. Photo by Kyle Barr

Over the past weekend, 84 restaurants and bars in downstate New York were cited with violations to COVID-19 guidelines by the State Liquor Authority. A total of 10 establishments on western Long Island and New York City had liquor licenses removed. 

Bench Warmers Tavern & Grill in Mount Sinai has an outdoor deck, to the left of the artwork, built specifically to help comply with state orders. Owner of the sports bar Jim Dunn said nobody uses it because of the heat. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though Monday Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Long Island and New York City are stepping up their enforcement, it’s a new point in the continuing contention between bars and New York State over social distancing restrictions. While other states across the country see record spikes,the governor has mentioned the possibility of scaling back reopening of bars and pubs, though owners say that would kill their businesses.

Documents released by the state reveal 16 of the 443 establishments which were cited for distancing violations from March to July 22 were in Suffolk County, though none were issued in this most recent round of investigations. Among those on the North Shore, only Danfords Hotel &, Marina in Port Jefferson and Pancho Villa’s in Huntington have previously been cited. This was out of 1,080 SLA investigations in New York, according to a release from the governor’s office. That office has not responded to requests for comment about the specifics of those citations, or about where the 84 new violations have come from this past weekend’s efforts.

“We are very proud of what New Yorkers did to flatten the curve of the virus, but we have to protect our progress because no one wants to do that again,” Cuomo said in a release July 24.

On Monday, the governor said there had been no summonses on businesses failing to follow coronavirus guidelines.

Earlier in July, Cuomo announced a so-called “Three Strikes and You’re Closed” initiative that means any business that receives three violations or shows an egregious disregard for the guidelines could be closed or have its license revoked. This weekend’s investigations of these establishments showed people not social distancing or wearing masks in a kind of “party-like” atmosphere, according to the governor’s office. During the pandemic, 40 establishments have had their liquor licenses revoked in total, as of July 27. Cuomo cited young people as the main reason these bars are packed and not conforming to distancing guidelines. 

“That’s not unique to New York — it’s a national problem — and even the president of the United States said young people shouldn’t go into packed bars,” Cuomo said.

Danfords was cited on the Fourth of July for failing to conform to distancing guidelines. A representative of The Crest Group, which owns Danfords, did not respond to requests for comment.

Pancho Villa’s was cited June 26. Restaurant owners could not be reached for comment.

The governor indicated last week that if we see more failure to social distance in bars, the state may roll back reopening regarding these establishments. 

It’s a hard line to follow, especially as New York hovers over a 1 percent regional infection rate. If that number increases past 5 percent, schools will not be able to reopen in the fall. Above 9 percent, the governor will start to roll back on the reopening process that counties across the state managed to make over the past two months.

But for bars and other restaurants that sell alcohol, it’s a roller coaster bringing them undue anxiety, even as they try to make guidelines.

Mount Sinai’s Bench Warmers Tavern & Grill co-owner Jim Dunn said it’s been tough to follow what has been, from the ground level, seemingly haphazard orders from New York State. Business has been hard, he said, even after reopening. He’s gone from 10 tables in the dining area to four and from 12 barstools to six along the bar with only three bar tables. He built a deck patio that now has five tables on it, but with the recent heat wave, very few customers have dared sit outside and eat.

Though he said he’s been doing everything to comply with state regulations, the constant changes have been disruptive. The worst order for his restaurant, he said, has been the requirement that people must order food if they are to order drinks. 

“A guy who’s a contractor can’t just come in and have a beer after work, because he has to have a beer with dinner,” Dunn said. “They’re trying to put the restaurant business out of business — every week there’s a different thing with this governor.”

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Anthony Amen, 4th from left, of Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai, joined the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce July 20 to give tips about health and fitness. Amen is part of a $500 million class action lawsuit on behalf of fitness centers and gyms in New York. Photo by Joan Nickeson

At its member meeting July 20, the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce gave out masks and sanitizer to its ember businesses, as well as participated in some outdoor exercise.

Anthony Amen, of Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai, led the group in a healthy stretch, a walk around the chamber-owned train car at the corner of Routes 347 and 112 and provided them information about keeping their immune systems strong.

“Thinking outside … that’s it. Thinking outside,” wrote Joan Nickeson, the chamber’s community liaison.

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File photo

New York & Company’s parent company RTW Retailwinds is the latest chain to file for bankruptcy as the coronavirus has piled additional pressure on an already challenging retail landscape. The company filed for Chapter 11 protection on July 13. It plans to permanently close most, if not all, of its stores and has begun liquidation sales.

The news affects 10 of the women’s clothing stores on Long Island, including four in Suffolk County — Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, Mayfair Shopping Center in Commack, Tanger Outlets in Deer Park and the Riverhead Outlet in Riverhead.

“The combined effects of a challenging retail environment coupled with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic have caused significant financial distress on our business, and we expect it to continue to do so in the future,” RTW Retailwinds CEO and CFO Sheamus Toal said in a statement.

“As a result, we believe that a restructuring of our liabilities and a potential sale of the business or portions of the business is the best path forward to unlock value.”

Neiman Marcus, J.Crew, Sur la Table, Dean & Deluca, J.C. Penney, Brooks Brothers, and Gold’s Gym have also sought bankruptcy protection amid the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Inside the Rocky Point Cycle shop, which is just one of several bike stores on the North Shore reporting exceptional sales amid the current health crisis. File photo by Kyle Barr

By Chris Parsick

While Long Island has traipsed through the four stages of reopening during the ongoing pandemic, many businesses have experienced a lull in sales. Movie theaters and concert venues face an unknown future. However, one booming business has turned out to be bicycle retail sales. 

“Sales are outpacing supplies. We have almost zero bicycles in stock and whenever we get more, they sell out in hours.”

— Neal Passoff

A New York Times article published earlier this month by Sasha von Oldershausen depicts the situation in New York City. The article describes stores sold out of bicycles with the wait for repairs reaching to the better part of a month. The article’s author points out that this pandemic may mark a change in the city to bicycles as a primary mode of transportation. 

Is the same thing happening on Long Island?

Bicycle sales are certainly up, according to many bicycle shops on the North Shore. 

“There has definitely been a huge increase,” said Neal Passoff, the president of Campus Cycle in Stony Brook. “Sales are outpacing supplies. We have almost zero bicycles in stock and whenever we get more, they sell out in hours.” 

Campus Cycle isn’t alone in experiencing this unprecedented demand for bicycles. Both Cycle Company in Smithtown and Rocky Point Cycle tell similar tales. 

“We have about a hundred bikes on backorder,” said Matt Connolly of Rocky Point Cycle. “They won’t be available until mid to late fall.” 

Does this mean that bicycles will become the main mode of transportation on the Island? A spring when many residents spent socially distanced at home has turned into a summer where many sporting-related businesses are saying they’ve seen an increase in sales. 

The boating retail business has also seen huge boons. 

“It’s the busiest season we’ve had in our 21 years of business.” said Cathy Bouquio, of Port Inflatables in Port Jefferson Station. “We’ve had more sales in this season to this date than we’ve had in entire seasons.” 

The Port Inflatables owner said it may be due to people spending their vacation money on recreation here on Long Island.

They’re not alone. Other local boating businesses like Island Watersports in Port Jefferson have seen similar increases. 

The reason that Long Island won’t likely experience the same switch to bicycles that the city is facing lies in the available modes of transportation. In 2016, the MTA reported 67.2 percent of the city’s workers using public transit to get to their jobs. The New York Times article specifically cites a distrust of public transportation to prevent COVID-19 transmission as a key factor in the switch to bicycles as a primary mode of transportation. However, on Long Island, close to 82 percent of working-age people rely on cars for their daily commute. 

As just one example, hitch installations, used to secure bikes to the top or rear of a car, are also on the rise. 

“We’ve seen increased hitch installations for both watercrafts and bike racks.” said Artie Kagel, of Mount Sinai Wheel and Alignment.

Airlines are continuing to see a steep decline in revenues compared to previous years, while  several states have also experienced a daily increase in coronavirus cases. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has mandated those traveling to New York from a number of these high-COVID states are ordered to complete a 14-day quarantine. 

Business owners on the North Shore said they want to believe more people will be spending their summers at home on Long Island, but either way, they are happy for the increased sales.

Anthony Boglino, the owner of the Premier Pools & Spas in Port Jefferson Station, said he has seen increased sales of both pools and spas, though the pandemic has made getting a permit for a new pool a challenge. As for whether he sees more people doing staycations on Long Island, “I hope so,” he said. “You’re guess is as good as mine.”

As the Smith Haven Mall reopened, some stores such as Yankee Candle stayed closed. Photo by Leah Chiappino

By Leah Chiappino

After months of being shuttered, Long Island malls were given the green light to reopen July 11 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), with the caveat that the mall installs a high-efficiency venting system to follow “proper ventilation protocols.”

“HVAC systems will be required to include filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value — or MERV — rating that filters out the COVID-19 virus, but can, if the system makes additional protections, run on a minimum MERV of 11,” the governor’s office said on its website. “Ventilation protocols include increased outdoor air, reduced air circulation, longer system run times and frequent filter checks.”

Although both Smith Haven and Walt Whitman malls are open, several stores such as Express, Victoria Secrets, Bath & Body Works, Yankee Candle and more remain closed the first few days. At Smith Haven, most stores plan to open next week, and the food court is open for take-out only. Guests are met with hand sanitizer stations and occupancy capacity signs upon entrance to the stores that are open. Most have one-way aisles to ensure social distancing.

Simon Property Group, which runs operations for both Smith Haven and Walt Whitman malls released a series of guidelines on its website to ensure customers and employees stay safe.

Employees, who will be trained on the proper safety protocols, must not report to work if they have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms within 72 hours of the start of their shift. All employees will have their temperature taken upon arrival, and those with a temperature above 100.4 and/or show flulike symptoms will be sent home. All Simon employees will be required to practice social distancing and wear a face covering. Employees who do test positive will be required to quarantine and the area they inhabited will be disinfected. The company says it will “encourage our tenants, vendors and contractors to implement the same precautions.”

Customers will also be “encouraged” to wear face coverings, and the mall will provide masks and sanitizing wipes to customers at the mall office or designated entrances.

Breakrooms, restrooms, counters, registers, workstations and employee-only areas will be disinfected several times per day. Customers are discouraged from handing an employee their credit card and should rely on credit card receptacles. Simon encouraged its vendors to maintain a 6-foot distance between customer and employees and install barriers at checkout.

Occupancy is limited to 50-square-feet per person. If occupancy is reached, customers will be asked to wait in their cars or outside stores, standing 6-feet apart. Social distancing markers will be placed near restrooms, checkout lines and food courts. Mall security has been tasked with “actively reminding and encouraging customers/public to comply with the social distancing standards.”

As of now, child play areas, water fountains and strollers are not available for use. All events hosted by the mall have been canceled or postponed.

The malls will operate at reduced hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

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Over the weekend, people formed lines outside C’est Cheese’s door to patronize it one last time before it would close Sunday, July 12. Photo by Joe Ciardullo

The well-known Main Street cheese, beer and wine shop C’est Cheese announced its doors would close July 8. By Sunday, July 12 at 6 p.m., the store’s doors were shut.

Joe Ciardullo. Photo from Facebook

The shop, known for its bevy selection of artisanal cheeses, beers, wines and coffee, announced its closing on Facebook, saying, “Your support throughout the last nine years have been overwhelming,” adding, “in this industry we have a saying the cheese fam is the best fam, and could not be happier with the family we made with the love of cheese.”

Owner Joe Ciardullo opened up the shop in September 2011. The 14-year Port Jeff resident said the COVID-19 pandemic had definitely impacted his business, though it was secondary to the main reason he is closing his business. 

“In terms of my decision making, running a business is challenging — the day-to-day operations got to be very overwhelming in these times,” Ciardullo said. “Working in food service, it’s a fickle town. There’s not a lot of businesses that last. I’ve been fortunate to have lasted this long.”

He thanked the numerous customers who have patronized his shop over the years. On Friday, July 10, customers formed a line running along the sidewalk to get one last chance to say goodbye to the shop.

 The pandemic has been a roller coaster, Ciardullo said, and the business has had to “reinvent ourselves every few weeks,” which grew into a challenge: from the initial wave that meant he had to lay off staff and establish a delivery service, to allowing outdoor dining, to finally allowing some indoor dining. The worst of it was when some customers would come into the shop not wearing masks, though the owner constantly requested they do so.

“When Phase 3 came along, that became the wake-up call that I needed to do something different — I wasn’t comfortable allowing people in my shop without masks.”

Though for right now he’s focused on selling shop equipment, he said plans for after that are still up in the air, though he plans on spending a little more time with his family.

From left: Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and former Congressman Steve Israel. Photo from Bellone’s office

During the initial months of the pandemic, Long Island lost jobs at a faster rate than New York City, New York state or anywhere else in the nation, according to a new report from Nassau and Suffolk counties with city-based consulting firm HR&A Advisors.

Long Islanders suffered the twin blows of the public health impact, and economic destruction. Long Island lost 270,000 jobs, or 21.9 percent of non-farm payroll employment, compared with a rate of 20.1 percent for New York City.

“This pandemic has caused hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders to lose their jobs, shuttered businesses and turned our local economy upside down,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. He and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) held a press conference in Melville July 9 where they cited this report, which “makes clear that federal aid from Congress is necessary if our region is going to rebound and recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Bellone added.

The impact was particularly brutal for people with low-paying jobs, lower levels of education and among the Hispanic population.

The worst, however, is not over, as total job losses on Long Island are expected to reach 375,000 compared to pre-COVID levels. Net job losses are expected to continue through 2021 as well, albeit at a slower pace.

More than two out of three jobs lost were in sectors that pay less than the regional average annual wage of $61,600.

The area that lost the highest number of jobs, across Suffolk and Nassau, was hospitality, which shed 82,000 jobs. Health care and social assistance lost 59,000 jobs and retail lost 52,000.

The job decline in hospitality was especially problematic for Hispanic workers, who are disproportionately represented in those businesses. Hispanic workers represent 27 percent of the hospitality field, while they are a smaller 17 percent of the overall Long Island workforce.

Although workers with a high school diploma or below constitute 62 percent of the workforce, they represented 73 percent of the viral-related job losses, reflecting the disparate effect of the virus.

The overall effect of these job losses will result in a decline of $21 billion in earnings for Long Island workers and $61 billion in economic activity throughout the area.

The report suggested that economic recovery would occur in several waves, with some industries showing an increase in jobs much more rapidly than others. Finance and insurance, management of companies and enterprises, professional and technical services, government and information jobs will likely see 95 percent of jobs return within six months, by the first quarter of next year.

The second wave includes jobs in real estate, retail, administrative and waste services, agriculture, construction and utilities, education, health care and social assistance, manufacturing, wholesale trade and other services. Within a full year, 85 percent of those jobs will return.

The third wave will take the longest and will bring back the fewest jobs. Accommodation and food services, transportation and warehousing, and arts, entertainment and recreation will take two years to restore 75 percent of the jobs on Long Island that predated COVID-19.

Half of all businesses in Suffolk County closed temporarily during the virus. An estimated 1 percent of those businesses closed permanently.

One-third of industrial businesses on Long Island are at risk of closing.

The report also projects that earning and spending losses may be even higher in 2021 from a slow recovery within some sectors and from expiring unemployment benefits.

Along with the two county executives, the report urged the federal government to pass the HEROES Act, which provides $375 billion in budgetary relief for local governments. The act passed the House, but the Senate has yet to address it.

The report urged an extension of benefits for workers and businesses and an increase in federal infrastructure funds. The report also sought federal relief for small businesses, while supporting new business development and helping businesses recover. Finally, it seeks assistance for states and counties for workforce development, job training and equity initiatives.

Stock photo

Local businesses will now have more time to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans as the aforementioned program has been extended until Aug. 8. 

President Donald Trump (R) signed a bill into law July 4 that ensures the loan program’s  application deadline will run for another five weeks. The bill’s passage allows the U.S. Small Business Administration to resume approving PPP applications, as the agency previously stopped processing forms on June 30. At that date, the SBA had approved nearly 4.9 loans with total funds over $520 billion.

In New York state, close to 324,000 PPP loans had been made, totaling $38.3 billion, according to SBA data. Despite that, the SBA had approximately $130 billion in unallocated funds when it momentarily shut down.

“The surprise for us and a lot of regional bankers is that there is still so much money that remains in the program,” said Bernie Ryba, regional director of the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University. “We had seen a huge surge of applications coming in before, but it has stayed flat the past few weeks. It’s been a complete reserve.”

Due to the changes the administration made to the program back in June, businesses that are seeking to qualify for loan forgiveness now have 24 weeks instead of the previous eight weeks to spend PPP funds. The portion of the loan that must be spent on payroll has been reduced from 75 to 60 percent. Businesses won’t be penalized if employees who have been offered their jobs, including same pay and hours, don’t return. 

The SBDC regional director said, with the updated terms, businesses who didn’t choose to apply initially could now decide to do so now.  

“The terms are better, that’s a real positive,” he said. “Some of the companies we’ve been working with said they felt constrained during the original eight-week period. It is a welcomed change.”

Ryba said in some cases he has heard of local and regional banks reaching out to businesses who still haven’t applied for the program. 

“It’s puzzling to them, like, ‘Why aren’t more of these businesses taking advantage of these terms?’” he said. 

The federal program loans up to $10 million with an interest rate of 1 percent and a five-year term. Ryba expects to see a mini-surge in application submissions as the Aug. 8 deadline gets closer. 

“There are some businesses who might think they can skate through this and don’t need to apply,” he said. “As the deadline looms they might change their minds.” 

In addition to Trump’s extension this past holiday weekend, a group of U.S. senators from the Senate Banking Committee tabled a bill that gives automatic forgiveness to businesses. 

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), introduced the Paycheck Protection Small Business Forgiveness Act, which would forgive PPP loans of $150,000 or less if the borrower submits a one-page attestation form to their lender.

According to the group, approximately 85 percent of PPP loans would be eligible for this simplified loan forgiveness process. The cost of applying for forgiveness for a PPP loan of this size is $2,000 for the small business and $500 for the lender. The senators say the bipartisan legislation could save small businesses $7.4 billion and banks nearly $2 billion.

With the updated terms, the application to have PPP loan forgiveness has been simplified. Ryba said the application requires fewer calculations and documentation. It has helped quell some of the concerns owners have had. Small businesses have until Dec. 31 to file their forgiveness applications. 

“The process has been simplified, but there still continues to be a lack of clarity of how to treat certain expenses,” he said. “We hope that gets cleared up, we are trying to stay informed as possible and give our clients the best guidance.”

Pictured above, from left, Paige Hubbard, office manager; Councilman Neil Foley; Dr. Rohit Reejsinghani; Councilman Timothy Hubbard; Catrina Grefe, NP; Dr. Vishnu Seodat; Councilwoman Jodi Giglio; Councilwoman Catherine Kent; Tina Toulon, physician liaison for NYCBS; and Amanda Brown, medical assistant. Photo courtesy of New York Health

New York Health (NYHealth) recently announced the addition of family physician Dr. Vishnudat Seodat. To celebrate the opening of his two new offices — at 6144 Route 25A, Suite 19 in Wading River and 32645 Main Road, Suite 7-8 in Cutchogue — a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the Wading River location on June 25. 

The event was attended by the Executive Director of New York Health, Dr. Rohit Reejsinghani; Brookhaven Town Councilman Neil Foley: Riverhead Town Councilmembers Catherine Kent, Jodi Giglio and Timothy Hubbard; and members of the staff and community.

Dr. Vishnudat is presented with a Certificate of Congratulations from the Town of Riverhead. Photo courtesy of New York Health

“At the end of the day, New York Health is really about patient care and having the basis of a large group of patients with such a great practitioner in this area really compliments our group very well so we are very happy to have Dr. Seodat on board and we think this is going to be a successful operation moving forward,” said Dr. Reejsinghani.

“As a child, I developed pneumonia which led to a house call from my family physician. The physician did not accept payment from my family for the appointment due to my less fortunate financial living conditions at the time,” said Dr. Seodat. Inspired by the physician’s compassion, Dr. Seodat navigated his life so that he could become a doctor for everyone. “My journey began as a nurse and a pharmacist dispenser before traveling to New York to earn my degree in medicine.”

Working alongside him for the past two years is Adult-Geri Nurse Practitioner, Catrina Grefe, MS, RN-BC, AGNP-C. “Patients can feel confident with me as their practitioner, and I am eager to deliver high-quality care to patients on the East End,” she said.

“Supervisor Yvette Aguiar of the Town of Riverhead together with the entire town board extend their best wishes for success to New York Health Family Medicine … on the opening of your new practice in Wading River. We look forward to having your quality of business in our town and wish you great success,” said Councilman Hubbard before presenting Dr. Seodat with a Certificate of Congratulations.  

“This ribbon cutting ceremony, in my mind, signifies not only the clearing of a barrier but to open a new door and the birth of a new venture with New York Health,” said Dr. Seodat. “It offers an opportunity to expand medical care … to the East End of Long Island. I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to partner with this multidisciplinary group and I hope to set the standard for family practice and primary care in this community and many other communities on Long Island.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Seodat or Catrina Grefe, please call ​631-758-7003.