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Emma S. Clark Library

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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The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. File photo by Elyse Sutton

By Rita J. Egan

A North Shore library is working hand-in-hand with its veterans to help them gain access to their necessary benefits.

The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket invites veterans across the community to attend an outreach program hosted by the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center at the library, which is scheduled for Thursday, July 14. Nancy McCaffrey, adult programs librarian at Emma Clark, said she sees many veterans visiting the library on a regular basis wearing their various armed forces hats and shirts. With the library’s help, she said she hoped those veterans could discover the various benefits available to them at the library’s outreach event.

“We assist veterans with enrollment, in getting health care through the VA system, we update their information, and sit with them one-on-one to discuss their personal benefits.”
—Wendy Robertson

She said the goal of the program — the first of its kind held at Emma Clark Library — would help to disseminate information to the veterans as well as help update their statuses.

“There are a lot of good programs out there for them that they may not be aware of,” McCaffrey said.

Every year, Wendy Robertson, community relations coordinator with the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, reaches out to as many locations as possible on Long Island. She said the venues include American Legion halls, fire departments and public libraries on the island. The coordinator said the organization averages around 70 to 80 outreach programs a year in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

Robertson said libraries are a great location for such a program because while some veterans may not belong to a local post of The American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars, many tend to frequent libraries.

The coordinator said it’s important for veterans to regularly update their information with the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as educate themselves about new programs available to them. She said many have received information a long time ago, and a lot of it has changed.

“The outreach program is to offer information, and update veterans on what their benefits are, and what their entitlements are with the VA,” she said. “What we do is assist the veterans with enrollment, in getting health care through the VA system, we update their information, and we also sit with them one-on-one at the events to discuss their personal benefits.”

Robertson said that veterans’ needs change as they grow older, and the VA can assist them with things such as hearing aids or health attendants. The program will also allow veterans to learn about new health care options as well as find out about six locations on Long Island now offering VA care.

The coordinator said attendance to the events varies depending on the time of year and location. She said anywhere from a few hundred to a handful of veterans can attend.

“A lot of the veterans feel that they are taking away from somebody else, and that’s really the opposite, so that’s what our mission is to give them what they are entitled to,” Robertson said.

The Veterans Outreach Program will be held on Thursday, July 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and there’s no need to register. However, veterans are asked to bring a copy of their DD214 or separation papers. The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is located at 120 Main St. in Setauket. For more information, call 631-941-4080, ext. 107, or visit emmaclark.org or northport.va.gov.