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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.

From left, Port Jeff chamber president Mary Joy Pipe, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Salon Blonde owner Melissa Hanley, Mayor Margot Garant celebrate the start of Phase Two reopening June 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

With Phase Two reopening coming to fruition Wednesday, June 10, Port Jefferson village has looked for several ways for business owners to get their wares and services outside.

Debra Bowling, owner of Pasta Pasta in Port Jeff, set up tables outside for Phase Two reopening. Photo by Kyle Barr

Village officials have already talked about setting up areas in parking lots to allow for more outdoor dining space. At its June 1 meeting, the village voted to waive all dining table application fees for the upcoming season. Mayor Margot Garant said the village has been working with a host of restaurants to figure out how they may go about offering outdoor services. 

The mayor said the village is allowing space for restaurants who normally have no space for outdoor dining in right-of-ways, walkways and parking lots.

By midday Wednesday, the town was jiving. With a steady stream of cars rolling down Main Street, and with customers sitting under canopy eating outdoors, many owners said Phase Two was turning out to be a much better scenario than Phase One.

During a tour of Suffolk downtowns, including Port Jeff, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the difference in allowing construction in the first reopening phase and allowing salons or outdoor dining has been significant.

“After going through an unprecedented event, these are the activities that give people a sense of normalcy,” Bellone said. 

Restaurants are setting up in formerly public places, such as Ruvo East and Old Fields which are laying tents in the space behind their restaurants. C’est Cheese and The Pie are also doing outside dining behind the main building on Main Street. Prohibition Kitchen will be using the parking lot behind its building as well.

Manager of The Pie, Jessica Janowicz, said though they will be setting up a tent behind the business Friday, each week has seen a slow progression in sales. Wednesday showed a big difference, with a steady stream of customers doing takeout since the place opened. 

Other restaurants will be using pedestrian walkways for its outdoor space, including Salsa Salsa, which will have some space in the alleyway next to the shop. Pasta Pasta and Toast Coffeehouse are laying out tables at the top of the stairway along East Main Street.

Debra Bowling, the owner of Pasta Pasta, thanked the Port Jeff chamber and the village for working so quickly with permits and signage. Her restaurant now has several tables and a flower box in front of her shop, and in over 30 years of working there, it’s the first time she has seen it do outdoor dining.

Alana Miletti of Fame and Rebel speaks about Phase Two with County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo by Kyle Barr

Some restaurants that have access to the outside, including Nantuckets, Gourmet Burger Bistro, The Steam Room and SaGhar, will use their current outdoor space as long as it can be open up to the sky. Danfords has its outdoor space on its dock and now has an agreement with the Town of Brookhaven for some use of the Mary Bayles Waterfront Park.  

A member of the village fire marshals did not respond to requests for comment about guidelines for safety in walkable areas.

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce released a letter dated June 5 to the Village of Port Jefferson mayor and trustees asking that retailers be allowed some latitude for “outdoor merchandising.”

“The consumer would have the ability to ‘shop’ in a less confined area and the retailer would be creating more opportunities for sales,” the letter states. 

Director of operations for the chamber Barbara Ransome said she has had positive feedback from village trustees on the proposal. 

Garant said they are working up guidelines that should be released sometime on Wednesday, but those were not available by press time. Retailers will have the option to have a table in front of their shops, but they will need to keep 3 feet of sidewalk clear and ensure that they do not block doorways or fire exits, as mandated by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for outdoor dining. 

Code Enforcement will be inspecting businesses and restaurants to ensure they’re not blocking too much of the curb or that they’re adhering to the CDC distancing guidelines. 

“We’re trying to keep it so that it’s nice looking and it’s not an overload of stuff,” Garant said. 

Alana Miletti, the owner of the boutique shop Fame and Rebel, said she has survived in the grueling months of the pandemic thanks to her active social media helping facilitate online orders. Though on Wednesday she said with customers able to browse, even in a limited capacity, she had not had a moment’s rest fulfilling orders since the store opened.

“People couldn’t wait to come out,” she said.

Now with Phase Two salons and haircutters are finally able to open. Melissa Hanley, the owner of Salon Blonde, said she managed to survive during the nearly three full months she was shut down thanks to federal loans. Being back in action, however, means a world of difference.

“It’s been scary — we’ve been struggling a little bit,” Hanley said. “It’s such a relief. This is my life so, to be back in business, I’ve waited a long time for it.”

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Game On owner Tristan Whitworth plays a video game with a child. Photo from Tristan Whitworth

By Leah Chiappino

Despite his business facing its own financial struggles, Tristan Whitworth, the owner of #GameOn Video Games, with locations in Smithtown and Miller Place, is donating a $1,500 grant to a neighboring small business.

The Shoreham resident made the announcement on #GameOn’s Facebook page June 2.

“We would like to help. Here is our story; let’s hear yours,” the post reads. “We did 10% of our normal sales through the store during the quarantine and we were lucky and appreciative for even that. In fact, we were one of the lucky small businesses that were able to make it through this unscathed because we were able to sell our products online. Many local businesses were not so lucky … These are not people trying to make millions, but people just trying to support their families. I know $1,500 isn’t a lot, but it’s what we can give and [the grant] may help someone [in a big way].”

#GameOn, which first opened its Miller Place location in 2015, specializes in the buying and selling of retro video games, action figures and collectibles. This isn’t the first time the local business has given back to the community. A 2017 TBR News Media Person of the year, Whitworth has previously hosted several game nights for special needs children, all for free.

When approached for an interview, Whitworth humbly said he didn’t think the grant was “a big deal.”

“I was just driving to work one day, and saw the roads were empty, no one was out, and I saw vacant signs for rent — everywhere,” he said. “I don’t know it, it just hit me.” He was then contacted by a former high school classmate, Elizabeth Vogel, Elizabeth Vogel, who agreed to match the grant using funds from the Frank and Deborah Giving Tree, a memorial fund in honor of her parents.

“We were pretty poor, when we grew up,” she said. “We were on welfare and food stamps and all of that, but my parents, no matter what they had, were always giving to everybody. My dad would have given you the shirt off his back or his last dollar.”

Whitworth will decide on a winner of the grant in the coming days.

People in Port Jefferson line up to eat at Prohibition Kitchen, doing their best to stay six feet apart. Photo by Kyle Barr

After two months of shutdown, area businesses were given the go-ahead to restart operations when Suffolk County reached Phase One of the state’s reopening process. It is the first of four phases as state officials slowly lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

For many storefronts, it is the first step on the path to recovery. Here’s how things are going for a few retailers in Port Jefferson. 

Renee Goldfarb, owner of Origin of Era boutique in Port Jefferson, said it’s been a delicate balance of making sure they are operating safely and trying to make some revenue again. For select retailers like hers, they are limited as of now to only curbside pickup. 

“We’ve encouraged our customers to check out our online store and if they like a certain item they can email, and we’ll have it ready for them at the door,” she said. “It’s been difficult because we are very hands on, we want the customer to be able to try on a piece but we’re limited on what we can do.”

Goldfarb hopes owners can eventually make up for some of their losses. But she also took issue with how the state handled big retailers remaining open.  

“Do I think it was implemented the right way? I don’t think so,” she said. “I understand Walmart and Target sell essential products, but people were also able to buy nonessential items. That completely puts mom-and-pop shops at a disadvantage. They should have closed that area off [to customers during the shutdown].”

Abby Buller, who runs the Village Boutique in Port Jefferson, said sales have been slow the first few days open. On Memorial Day weekend, a time when the businesses thrive with the influx of people, Buller said she only saw about six people walking the streets. 

“There was no one on the streets, why should they come to a town where they can’t go shopping. This is a shopping and eating town,” she said. “The bars are closed; the restaurants are only allowing pickup. Right now, there is no reason for the Connecticut people to come and take the ferry — there’s nothing to do once you get here.”

With eight weeks of no income coming in, the boutique owner is glad she can start bringing in some sales. She was also frustrated with how the state handled the initial shutdown restrictions and agreed with Goldfarb.. 

“What they’ve done to small businesses is ridiculous,” she said. “From the beginning they allowed Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s to sell nonessential products,” Buller said. “The fact that they were allowed to stay open during this time and make more money is disgusting, small businesses have been suffering.” 

Brookhaven officials have spoken out on the issue. 

“I am very concerned about the prospects for the future of our small businesses,” said Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), at a recent press conference. “We need to be safe and we need to be smart, but we don’t need rules that work against mom-and-pop businesses when there’s no reason to do that. I ask the governor and county executive to take action now and help our small businesses and downtowns fully reopen again.”

The comments came after recommendations from the town’s post-COVID-19 task force looking at economic recovery. Members of the committee said the state’s plan has favored big box stores.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) had similar sentiments. 

“We are asking the state to take a different approach when reopening businesses and use a more objective standard, such as the square footage recommendation made by the town a few weeks ago,” she said. “This will place our small businesses on more equal footing with the other larger and big box businesses.”

With Phase Two close by, owners will have to continue to obey social distancing guidelines. Retailers will be required to limit capacity. Patrons and workers are also required to wear masks.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and owner of East End Shirt Company is trying to make the best of their current situation as they look towards phase two. 

“Sales have been near zero, though we’ve had some customers,” she said. “But it’s important right now to be open, present and let people know we’re here.”

Going into phase two, Pipe will be changing the interior of the store to meet social distancing guidelines. Masks and the use of hand sanitizers will be required. 

“I think many of us look forward to starting a on a new page, looking back is painful,” she said. “We’re grateful to the community, they’ve had us in their minds and we feel that.”

In addition, once Phase Two begins, Goldfarb may implement an appointment-only model where up to six people can be in the store at a given time. She is also considering private shopping experiences. 

“My store is 700 square feet, we’re in a confined space. I’ll be requiring customers to wear masks until I feel it is comfortable to stop,” Goldfarb said. “I may lose customers but it’s our responsibility to be safe.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has declared a shutdown of all businesses in New York. File photo by Sara Meghan Walsh

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D) announced earlier today that he is shutting down all businesses that are not considered essential starting this Sunday evening.

Businesses that will remain open include grocery stores and pharmacies, among others.

At a press conference, Cuomo said, “this is the most drastic action we can take,” adding these provisions will be enforced.

“These are not helpful hints,” he said. “These are legal provisions. They will be enforced. There will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance. Your actions can affect my health. That’s where we are.”

He tackled misconceptions among younger people. He said bad information includes the perception that young people can’t get it or that young people can’t transmit it if they’re not symptomatic. Those are both “factually wrong,” Cuomo said. He cited that 20 percent of coronavirus cases are from people ages 20 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 56th Governor of the Empire State said non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason are canceled at this time.

To protect those most at risk, Cuomo is also announcing Matilda’s Law to protect New Yorkers who are over 70 years old with compromised immune systems. He urges them to remain indoors, pre-screen visitors by taking their temperature, and require visitors to wear masks and remain six feet away from others. He strongly discouraged people in this group from taking public transportation, “unless urgent and absolutely necessary.”

He is also implementing a 90-day moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants.

“I understand that may affect businesses negatively and I’ve spoken to a number of them,” Cuomo said. “I know that we’re going to put people out of work with what I did. I want to make sure I don’t put them out of their house.”

Cuomo said the order was definitely not a “shelter-in-place” order, but rather was a way to “tighten the valve” on the density of the population, reducing the risk of exposure and contagion.

Suffolk Legislator Susan Berland was at the head of changing ban the box legislation. File photo

The Suffolk County Legislature voted overwhelmingly March 17 to pass a piece of legislation that “bans the box” and restricts employers from asking about criminal histories in job applications.

The new law aims to allow those with criminal convictions to have more employment opportunities without the stigma of past criminal history. In addition, supporters of the bill have said that it would help those individuals rehabilitate and reacclimate into society. 

“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application.”

— Susan Berland

County legislators have been trying to pass ban-the-box legislation since last year, but the latest breakthrough came late last month when lawmakers announced they had reached a bipartisan agreement on a new amended piece of legislation. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) sponsored the bill, while Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) were co-sponsors. 

“This law allows applicants with criminal records to have the opportunity to get their foot in the door, have that face-to-face with an employer and get that interview,” Berland said. 

In addition, the law gives the applicant the chance to address their criminal history with a prospective employer earlier if they choose to and protects the employer’s right to investigate the backgrounds of its applicants after an initial interview.

Berland said the new amended legislation protects both sides. She believed previous versions of the bill placed too much onus on employers, requiring them to wait an extended period of time until they could inquire about an applicant’s arrest or conviction record, and disclose to applicants the reason why they were not hired. 

“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application,” the legislator said. 

Advocates have said Suffolk County has one of the largest parole populations in the state and that one in three adults have a criminal record in the U.S. According to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, the FBI considers anyone who has been arrested on a felony to have a criminal record, even without a conviction. Effectively, one in three adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, but far less have actually been convicted. 

Supporters of the bill have said the ban would afford people a second chance, instead of having their applications discarded on the basis of one answer. Also, it would reduce the stigma and bias associated with individuals with a criminal background. Suffolk County will join more than 150 municipalities and 35 states in the U.S. which have implemented ban-the-box laws. 

“You can’t help but be affected by their stories,” Berland said. “These people have made mistakes, but they want to turn their lives around.”

Co-sponsor McCaffrey said in a statement that individuals deserve an opportunity to put their best foot forward in a job interview without being automatically disqualified. He said the legislation “strikes a fair balance.”

Gonzalez, the other co-sponsor, said he believes access to gainful employment will improve the quality of life for people with criminal records and the communities in which they live, ultimately reducing recidivism and increasing public safety. 

“We have been working on this legislation for quite some time — it’s a good day,” Berland said. “These are people that want to better themselves as well as families. This will get them in the door based on their application.”

The Huntington-based Main St. Board Game Cafe has had to let staff go in the hopes of surviving. They are still selling board games to-go. Photo from Board Game Cafe Facebook

By Kyle Barr and Leah Chiappino

As Monday rolled around this week, and as local businesses were looking to find ways to attract customers during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, a new order handed down by New York State put most of those considerations on hold.

On Monday, March 16, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) ordered many nonessential businesses to shut down, or in the case of restaurants, to lessen foot traffic and only allow takeout orders and deliveries.

PJ Cinemas has closed due to the state’s coronavirus mandates. Photo from Google Maps

“Our primary goal right now is to slow the spread of this virus so that the wave of new infections doesn’t crash our health care system, and everyone agrees social distancing is the best way to do that,” Cuomo said. “I have called on the federal government to implement nationwide protocols, but in their absence, we are taking this on ourselves.”

New York State, Connecticut and New Jersey will all be limiting social meetings of any sort to 50 people. Movie theaters, gyms and casinos were closed starting at 8 p.m. Monday.

The governor also announced restaurants and bars will be closed to sit down service and would need to refocus on takeout.

PJ Cinemas already announced closure until they, “receive further guidance from state, local and federal authorities.” All ticket sales will stay valid until they reopen.

Local elected officials said the restrictions were due to people’s reports that numerous bars had high activity over the weekend, despite warnings.

“We are discussing ways to make sure that it is enforced,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “We expect bars and restaurants will comply … by and large we’ve had great compliance from people.”

Businesses and local business groups took the news with a mix of understanding and worry. Most understood the reason why the state has taken such drastic measures but could hardly fathom how this might impact them long term. The change could not just mean shuttered businesses for the next few weeks, but permanent closures.

Jennifer Dzvonar, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses are the “lifeblood of the community,” and times such as these require the community to come out in support, whether it’s ordering takeout from restaurants or buying vouchers or gift certificates.

The difficulties will be severe. As people are asked to stay home, some away from work, less will have money to spend. She said service businesses, including plumbers, carpenters and the like, will be hard hit since less have the money to spend.

Jennifer Dzvonar, the PJS/T Chamber president, said local businesses will be hit hard by the state mandates. File Photo

“Businesses need as much positive reinforcement as possible,” Dzvonar said.

She added businesses also often sponsor Little Leagues or other community events, so while the governor’s order is in effect such groups may have to go without for the time being.

Other chamber leaders in the area wrote quickly to members to try and offer assistance. 

Gary Pollakusky, the president of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, said he is especially worried about businesses shutting down permanently. 

“When we look at our small businesses as the lifeblood of our communities, we should be focused on our mom and pop shops, more than ever in this time of need,” he said.

Jane Taylor, the executive director of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said restaurants providing takeout meals is a good bridge until business returns to normal, but, “There is no question that our local businesses and restaurants are going to face challenges.” 

Northport Chamber of Commerce President James Izzo says the impact of the restrictions on the village could be devastating.

“Small businesses especially are trying to keep their [employees] paid, and it’s difficult to do that with no money coming in,” he said.

He added most village restaurants are trying to focus on takeout, removing or making their seating inaccessible. Most are trying to deliver food, which can be expensive.

“There’s two sides to this,” Izzo said. “You have some people who are afraid to come out who need food, need to eat and need supplies, and you have other people that want to come down, but everything is so limited. We have bars, but they don’t serve food, and you can’t have more than 10 people in a space, so that’s a done deal.”

Some boutique stores are open, but most are trying to supplement the lack of foot traffic with online shopping.

Izzo said that the village was quiet with minimal traffic Tuesday afternoon, while Sunday was busy with foot traffic.

“You can’t make a living one day a week,” he said. “We are a seasonal community and businesses depend on this time of the year after a long cold dark winter.”

He said the mood in the village is still hopeful, though uncertain.

“This is uncharted territory and everyone is trying to figure it out day by day,” he said.

Merchants are talking about using vehicles owned by the village to deliver meals to those in need. The chamber is working on providing advertising to businesses for free, to promote their delivery services or online products.

Izzo, a real estate broker, says the impact to his business has been minimal, stating most of his work is done online. Open houses have been slower than usual at this time of year, but not completely dead. However, he is anxious to see what this upcoming weekend will bring, in the wake of the new restrictions.

“This is uncharted territory and everyone is trying to figure it out day by day.”

— James Izzo

“A lot can change in six days, we will have to see what happens,” he said.

Copenhagen Bakery and Cafe has had to close its seating but is still open for takeout. The owner,  Flemming Hansen, says that most of the business is in takeout baked goods, and while the number of customers is down, there has been a steady flow of people purchasing breads and soups.

“So far we’re doing alright,” he said. “We’re taking it day by day.”

He added that cake sales have dropped, as people are not having gatherings.

Neil Goldberg, the owner of Main Street Board Game Café in Huntington, said the restrictions have forced him to lay off the entire staff in hopes of buying time.

“Nobody is going to make any money, it’s just about keeping the doors open,” he said.

The cafe’s purpose normally is to be a place where people can come in, socialize and play board games; however, they have had to eliminate all food services, besides prepackaged drinks and are only selling games.

“It’s not worth it for us to turn the ovens on,” he said.

He added the store had some purchases “from people who realize that they’re going to need more entertainment than just watching TV and watching the news.”

The cafe will offer curbside delivery of games and are looking to offer delivery services within a 15-mile radius in the coming days.

Goldberg said the local village businesses are checking in on each other and sharing advice and ideas.

“There’s no plan for this,” he said. “Nobody has insurance for this, because it doesn’t exist, and all you can do is lean on each other and hope things will improve.”

Despite all of this, Goldberg has seen moments of humanity. On Tuesday, former employees came in and bought games to help the shop stay afloat. Then, a mother, who has a son that plays in a game tournament at the shop, bought $1,000 worth of gift cards.

“That was really moving,” he said. 

Goldberg added the best way to support small businesses during this time is to patronize them as much as possible.

“Gift cards are good because, you will eventually use them and you are essentially providing a no-interest loan to the business that you like,” he said. “Honestly, the best thing that you can do is to stay socially distant so we can get through this quicker. Everything that everybody is doing is just Band-Aids at this point to a large problem, and the best thing for businesses is for things to go back to the way they were.”

Meanwhile, federal officials in the House and Senate are considering an aid bill to help workers. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide free testing, extend the unemployment payment period and offer paid sick leave and emergency leave for workers in companies with 500 or less employees. The latter could exempt companies with 50 or fewer employees if that measure would bankrupt the company.

President Donald Trump (R) has called for a $850 billion aid stimulus to major companies such as airlines impacted by the spread of the virus. The White House has also suggested deferring tax payments and even sending home checks to every American to cushion the blow of being out of work. As of press time, details have been sporadic, and the president’s office has flip-flopped on several initiatives already.

The Village of Port Jefferson declared a state of emergency March 16, after both the state and Suffolk County declared theirs. As of Tuesday, March 17, Village Hall and all village-owned facilities are closed to the public. Further board of trustee meetings will be held remotely, along with the budget presentation that was planned for March 30. The executive order only ends after a further order from the village mayor.

“The only thing we can do is ask residents to continue to support the local businesses.”

— Margot Garant

According to Mayor Margot Garant, the executive order allows code enforcement to enforce the new restrictions on businesses. 

“The only thing we can do is ask residents to continue to support the local businesses,” she said, adding those stores are “going to adapt, they will find means to keep those businesses viable.”

Barbara Ransome, the executive director of the PJ village chamber, said the chamber is working on a social media campaign encouraging takeout pickups and deliveries.

With nobody really able to say how long life will be disrupted because of COVID-19, the true consequences of this loss of business are still unknown. 

“My mother always used to say you can live with anything bad as long as you know it’s not long term, or you see it ending,” Ransome said.

Businesses, she said, are all hedging on when that end finally arrives.

Sei Ramen in East Setauket is just one Asian restaurant on Long Island that said business is down since the start of the coronavirus panic. Photo by David Luces

The uncertainty of the coronavirus has led many people to avoid public places that see a lot of foot traffic. Some have resorted to hunkering down at home. With the first confirmed cases of coronavirus reported in Suffolk County this past week, despite efforts to sanitize their locations, some local businesses owners have been seeing the impact directly.

Since the outbreak began in China late last year, Asian American and Chinese restaurants and businesses have seen a decline in the number of customers. 

The Great Wall Chinese restaurant in Sound Beach is just one of several Asian establishments impacted by irrational fears over the coronavirus. Photo from Google Maps

Kevin Ma, co-owner of Sei Ramen in East Setauket, acknowledged the drop-off in business. 

Business “for area restaurants, it’s going down,” he said. “I have friends that run their own businesses and they are going through the same thing.”

Since opening last month, Ma believes they have been doing OK and hopes to see an uptick in customers once the coronavirus scare dies down.

“All we can do is let customers know the food is safe [to eat],” he said. “We are making sure everything is clean and sanitized.”  

Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the fears of coronavirus are affecting businesses in the area. 

“I spoke to two Chinese restaurants [that are chamber members], they don’t want this to affect them,” he said. 

Pollakusky said misinformation on the coronavirus has caused the reduction in business, especially to the new owners of the Great Wall, a Chinese restaurant in Sound Beach. 

“The fears of the people toward Chinese food are irrational — people shouldn’t be afraid of eating local,” he said. “The Great Wall in Sound Beach has new owners and they are very excited to be a part of this community.”

The executive director said all businesses are taking the proper precautions and safety measures to make sure its facilities are clean. 

Libraries also see a lot of visitors and are trying to stay a step ahead.  

Ted Gutmann, director at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, said they are closely monitoring the situation. 

“We take the health and the safety of our patrons very seriously,” he said. “We have ordered additional cleaning supplies to clean surfaces, computers, keyboards and other areas.”

Gutmann said if patrons feel sick, he would advise them not to come to the library. 

“We have tried to be proactive, we haven’t really seen a decrease in attendance at the library,” the director said.

At this point, Emma Clark has not decided to cancel any upcoming events but has had internal discussions about the problem, should the overall situation gets worse. 

Debbie Engelhardt, director of Comsewogue Public Library, had similar sentiments. 

“We haven’t noticed a change in attendance,” she said. “We are trying to be proactive, just washing our hands is part of our daily routine.” 

Engelhardt said they already had numerous sanitizers installed throughout the building. 

“We increased signage reminding employees and patrons to wash their hands,” she said. “If employees are sick, we have told them to stay home — we are monitoring information from the state and county. We are trying to stay educated, we have a responsibility as a public service building.”  

“We are making sure everything is clean and sanitized.”

— Kevin Ma

Several local groups have been canceling events. The Three Village Democratic Club, Three Village Historical Society and Three Village Community Trust have all canceled or pushed off events out of a sense of caution. 

Brookhaven Town has released an executive order canceling all town events for senior citizens due to coronavirus concerns. Those events are suspended beginning March 12. Meals on Wheels deliveries will continue to homebound seniors, while those previously served by congregate nutrition programs at senior centers will be offered meal delivery at home.

Residents can call 631-451-8696 for more information.

Despite the preparation, other businesses said they haven’t seen much of an impact so far.

Bobby Suchan, general manager of Port Jeff Bowl, said besides less people coming into bowling alleys in general, they haven’t seen a change in business as of now. 

“We have installed more hand sanitizer in the building and just making sure everything is clean, which is something we always do,” he said. 

Charlie Ziegler, director of operations at Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, said it’s business as usual at the hotel. 

“It’s not having an effect [on us] — the number of customers coming is the same,” he said. 

Despite that, Ziegler said they will continue to make sure everything in the building is cleaned and sanitized. 

“We had a meeting recently with the staff and we told them to make sure to wash their hands constantly,” he said. “We want to keep areas clean … we are disinfecting areas like the great room, telephones and door handles.”

Ziegler said they don’t anticipate any further disruptions from the coronavirus situation. 

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Harbor Grill in Port Jefferson is now under ownership of the people behind the Meadow Club and Curry Club. Photo by Kyle Barr

The owners of a popular catering hall and Indian cuisine restaurant along the North Shore are making their move to West Broadway in Port Jefferson. 

The family of restaurateurs has plans to take over the Harbor Grill, previously known as Schafer’s. The new restaurant would be one of the latest addition to the Port Jeff harborfront. 

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club, is part of a family of business owners on the North Shore. Photo by Kyle Barr

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station, said they had been renting out the space in Port Jeff during the holiday season and hosted their annual Small Business Holiday Party there. 

It was during that time that they realized the potential of the building. 

“We noticed that our clients really liked the space and the overall ambiance,” Kaur said. “It was perfect for smaller parties — we saw a great opportunity.”

In addition to the client’s feedback, Kaur said she liked the layout of the two-story restaurant with an outdoor dining section that boasts views of the harbor. 

“We have been brainstorming a few things, we wanted to move into a new direction and are excited to offer something different to Port Jeff residents,” she said. 

Kaur said they haven’t decided on a name for the restaurant yet, but are leaning toward a water theme being they are close to the harbor as well as incorporating a touch of their business background.  

A chef has already been hired for the new space, and the family is in the midst of finalizing the menu and other aspects of the new restaurant. 

Kaur said that residents can expect Indian cuisine and a fusion of menu items similar to what they offer at their other two restaurants. 

“It’s going to be great to offer new options to our customers,” she said. “It will be a great place to have a nice lunch or dinner.”

In addition, they hope to attract visitors coming in from Bridgeport. Kaur also teased the possibility of adding a brunch menu as a way of attracting more patrons. 

As the family prepares to open the new restaurant, the Meadow Club which was closed due a fire in 2018, is expected to reopen this spring. 

Despite rumors that The Curry Club may close, Kaur said the restaurant will continue to be open and that the famed train cart will remain. 

One of the first events the family will host in the building will be a Valentine’s Day four-course dinner. Tickets for couples are $120 which will include a Champagne bottle and a cocktail drink. Reservations from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. can be made by calling 631-928-3800. The dance floor will be open, and a DJ will be playing all night. 

“We are excited about the move and we are looking forward to helping bring more people into Port Jefferson,” Kaur said. 

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Stacey Wohl, center, with her daughter at her shop Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique in Wading River. Photo from Wohl

By Leah Chiappino

Local entrepreneur Stacey Wohl has moved her store, Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique, which first opened Nov. 22, from its original East Northport location to Wading River Square. Despite the change in location, it still has the same mission, to give people with disabilities a chance at employment.

In 2015, Wohl opened Cause Cafe in Northport, a restaurant that employed people on the autism spectrum, with the help of her parents, Susan and Gerald Schultz. Her interest in doing so was taken from her own two children, Brittney, 22, and Logan, 20, both of whom have autism.

Wohl says the business struggled because of the lack of a nonprofit being able to subsidize the rent. Her children were unable to work in the kitchen as the environment could get chaotic, and it grew very loud. 

“When you own a business, you have to do everything, and I am not a chef,” Wohl said. “It was a very large undertaking that we weren’t prepared for.”

Despite putting her best efforts into it, Wohl was forced to shut down the restaurant when it was not able to sustain itself and personal tragedy struck. In 2016, Cause Cafe was featured on the Rachel Ray Show, which sent Wohl on a cruise with her children and parents. Two days into the trip, her father had a heart attack while dancing with her mother on the ship and passed away. 

When the family returned home, Wohl closed the doors, as she felt the need to care for her mother, who was mourning the loss of a husband of 55 years.

Wohl’s first love is fashion, having been a showroom salesperson, fit model and boutique owner in her 20s, so she opened Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique in East Northport. However, tragedy struck again when her mother passed away three weeks later. Wohl relocated to Wading River after her daughter got accepted to a day program in Abequogue.

“I saw the need for a place like this,”
Wohl said. 

The front of the store has a coffee bar with repackaged baked goods to take home, complete with inspirational coffee mugs for sale. The back of the store is filled with apparel and gifts that mostly come from women-owned companies and charitable causes. There is local artwork for sale as well as her own coffee brand. 

“I want the store to be a place where people go to buy a gift, and not just feel like they are doing something for charity,” Wohl said. 

Recently the business has been struggling. Business boomed over Christmas, but after the holidays business slowed down. 

“I only sold one $3 dollar cup of coffee today,” Wohl said. However, she affirms the community has been very supportive. Wohl hopes that people will make the store their go-to place to grab a cup of coffee and is even looking to expand to have art classes and job training. She is also hoping to make a clothing line from her former fashion background. 

“I lost that part of myself in [dedicating myself to my children] for the past 20 years.”

The boutique is located at 6278 Building A, #2 along Route 25A in Wading River and is open Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 5.p.m. Online ordering is also available through the boutique’s website at www.becauseboutiquecafe.com.