As Long Island continues to take steps toward reopening and some sense of normalcy, municipalities are aiming to help small businesses and their financial futures. The Town of Brookhaven has created a post-COVID-19 task force for economic recovery in an effort to revitalize the downtown areas and help small businesses affected by the pandemic, many of which are receiving no income at all during this time.
The Small Business Recovery Task Force is made up of business owners, chamber of commerce representatives, business experts and other officials.
Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said the task force gives them the opportunity to come together and be on the same page on how to help these small businesses.
“We all have similar concerns and it’s important that we rally together and have a unified plan,” she said.
The task force has continued to comply with feedback from local business owners. A complaint they have brought up is the state’s process of phasing in business reopenings.
“They could come up with a formula that could be based on square footage of a business and safety measures.”
— Barbara Ransome
Ransome said the state’s plan favors big box stores. While large retailers like Target and Walmart have been able to stay open, smaller merchants, who sell many of the same products, have been forced to close. =
“Those businesses don’t have that ability right now [to reopen],” she said.
Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and the Suffolk County Supervisors’ Association has sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) calling on him to come up with a consistent way of judging businesses.
“They could come up with a formula that could be based on square footage of a business and safety measures,” she said.
The group has also called on elected officials to help with insurance coverage issues.
Educating business owners, merchants and customers on social distancing and other best practices is another area the task force is focusing on.
“It’s all our responsibility to make sure we are on the same page,” said Charlie Lefkowitz, the president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce,.
One idea they’ve proposed is creating a public service announcement in coordination with the town. Lefkowitz said it would inform the public on safety measures, social distancing compliance and other information. They would also use it as an opportunity to send out a positive message of unity.
“The hardest thing we will have to figure out is how we are going to social distance,” he said. “We are trying to help these main street and small businesses.”
In addition, the task force is looking at ways to ease the reopening process for owners. Capacity and the number of customers a business can serve could play a huge role in how they do so, given the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Lefkowitz said he has been working with the town officials on a way to allow business owners to temporarily extend their store space either by permits, tweaking town code or drafting new legislation.
“Some businesses might be able to use walkways and put merchandise outside, or they could set up a tent outside in the parking lot,” he said.
The chamber of commerce president has a draft legislation proposal that would increase the floor area ratio of a business, which would help in making more selling space.
Lefkowitz said restaurants were just one type of business that could benefit from increase in space.
“They can be more efficient with indoor and outdoor space,” he said. “Whatever the capacity is, you may have customers that might not feel comfortable going inside.”
Long Island has taken steps toward reaching Phase 1 of Cuomo’s New York Forward plan for reopening its economy, meeting five of seven benchmarks required by the state. The governor’s plan to reopen consists of four phases which include different categories. Restaurants are in Phase 3.
“Whatever the capacity is, you may have customers that might not feel comfortable going inside.”
— Charlie Lefkowitz
Michael Ardolino, a past president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said businesses will be facing different challenges when they reopen.
“How will places like beauty salons and barbershops fare when everyone is in close proximity to each other?” he said. “These owners will want to be able to get their business going.”
Ardolino said he could envision a scenario where those types of businesses take a certain number of customers by appointment only.
“We will continue to monitor all businesses and may have to plan for what might be a new business climate,” he said.
Owners hope business reopens sooner rather than later, with summer close by.
“As the warmer weather gets closer it will be challenging to keep people at bay,” Ransome said. “We have to continue to push government leaders, need to continue to make these phases and hit these benchmarks so we can reopen. We don’t want to be going backward instead of going forward.”