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New York State Liquor Authority

The Miller Place Inn has temporarily closed to weddings after receiving a call from the NYSLA. Photo from the Miller Place Inn

The Miller Place Inn has temporarily halted wedding operations as of Oct. 9 at their banquet hall due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Donna Regina, co-owner of the Miller Place Inn, said the decision to temporarily close came after a courtesy call they received from the SLA.

“[An official] said he has orders from Albany to go to venues on Long Island and close them down if they’re not in compliance,” she said. “As of yesterday, they added no cocktail hour and at that point, it’s not a wedding. It’s not what the bride paid for.”

She said the rules are constantly changing.

“The governor tightened the noose on us,” she said. “Our capacity is 250 … Why do we have to have 50 guests?”

William Crowley, a spokesperson for the SLA, said the office received a complaint about weddings in excess of 50 people, and that an official called to warn and advise of the need to retain the 50-person limit and ensure social distancing.

He added that he reminded them there is no dancing allowed, even with masks.

Those set for weddings as early as Saturday, Oct. 17 also received the news Friday.

Selena Rodriguez, a bride from Brooklyn who was set to get married next weekend at the venue, said she got a phone call Thursday night from the Inn, saying they were shut down by the New York State Liquor Authority.

Rodriguez was told she can only postpone her wedding, but earlier in discussions she made it clear that the wedding needed to happen by the end of 2020, as her and her fiancé are moving across the country. They were planning a wedding of 40 people, well under the state’s limit.

She said because she physically cannot postpone her event, the Inn would not refund her money.

“You can’t make me have an event that I’m not going to be here for,” she said.

This comes nearly a week after a rally was held outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge where venue owners, wedding industry professionals, brides and elected officials begged the governor to loosen the maximum cap.

Christopher Regina, fellow co-owner of the Miller Place Inn, said they decided Thursday to temporarily halt events inside their venue because of the state’s 50-person limit.

The immediate closure decision was a “conscious one,” Donna added, because “the rules were too much to handle.”

“We cannot operate under these restrictions,” Christopher said. “When a wedding venue cannot hold at least 50 percent capacity, it’s very, very, very hard.”

Rodriguez added that her contract was “bare bones” and did not mention any clauses regarding the venue closing at their own discretion. The original call she received made it sound like the venue was claiming all venues on the island were being moderated by the state.

“They told me they got shut down by the SLA and they’re shutting everything down on Long Island,” she said.

The Miller Place Inn wanted to be clear that his venue did not close its doors permanently or lose its liquor license.

“That’s absolutely not true,” Christopher said.

Donna said that the Inn reached out to all the brides scheduled to get married up until early December.

“We told them simply we would work with you, move your date, provide out-of-house catering… We bent over backward for each bride,” she said. “We understand the brides are hurt. Their dream wedding can’t happen if they cannot get out of their seats.”

She added that claim from brides that they could not get refunds is “not true.”

“Our lawyer advised us we’re not able to refund anything within six months,” she said. “But we never punished a bride, never, so we moved eight months’ worth of weddings not to punish our brides … Every bride and groom has our cell phone numbers, anyone who knows us knows we will answer our phones.”

Caterers across the state also have filed a class-action lawsuit against Governor Andrew Cuomo saying their businesses can be just as safe, if not safer. They argue that with many venues being able to hold more than 300 people, a 50 percent cap would still allow social distancing, with guests still being able to celebrate.

“Please talk to your local government and the people in Albany,” Christopher added. “They are the ones keeping us closed.”

Its plans to reopen fully are up in the air.

“When the government revokes the 50-person cap, but that’s up to them,” he said

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PJ Lobster House is just one of several local businesses whose owners say inspectors have repeatedly shown up to the restaurant around dinner time in a small, two-week period. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local restaurant owners have reached out to regional officials saying the New York State Liquor Authority inspections meant to determine if they’re complying with state mandates have become more than excessive, but actually damaging to their businesses.

‘I think they were making some restaurants sort of the poster children for: if you don’t comply, you face some significant penalties.’

—Kevin Law

A letter dated Aug. 24 saying just that was signed by Port Jefferson Village, Port Jeff chamber of commerce and BID leaders and sent to Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association. It was also copied to County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Cara Longworth, regional director of Empire State Development. Letter writers argued that the SLA inspections have put too much onus on restaurants when they’re barely struggling to get by.

“Please realize we totally agree that inspections need to take place and strive to have our

business owners here operate in full compliance,” the letter reads. “However, we are concerned that overemphasis is being put on our restaurants — rather than the bars that remain open after the kitchens are closed and continue to serve alcohol until 4 a.m.”

The letter further states that restaurant owners have seen groups of four come in at a time, usually around dinnertime, sometimes not showing ID, with one armed with a pistol and wearing a bulletproof vest.

James Luciano, the owner of PJ Lobster House, said he has personally seen SLA inspections come through five times within a 14-day period at about 7 p.m. each time. The agents, though courteous, informed him that they were not from the SLA but from a New York State Police task force. A group of men, one armed, strolling into an eating area when people are sitting down for dinner does not make a good impression on diners, he argued.

“I am not certain that is the perception that we want the general public to see,” Luciano said. “I stressed to them that this was borderline harassment.”

PJ Lobster House is not the only local bar or restaurant that’s experienced a heavy hand with inspections. One Junior’s Spycoast employee related seeing a massive number of inspections in just two weeks. Danfords Hotel & Marina has been previously cited for SLA violations July 4 as well, according to state documents.

Though he said he has not heard from the inspectors since just before the letter was sent, he and other business owners have experienced the stress of constant inspections.

New York State has, according to the latest numbers as of Aug. 28, suspended the liquor licenses for 168 businesses for not complying with COVID regulations, though the vast majority were businesses centered in the five New York City boroughs. Later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Sept. 7 that seven bars and restaurants in New York state had their licenses revoked. Five of those were from Suffolk County.

The number of inspections, however, has yet to slow down. The governor’s office announced SLA and New York State Police task force members visited 1,064 establishments just on Sept. 6. Per the governor’s near-daily reports, inspectors conduct at least several hundred inspections daily.

In order to carry out reopening and COVID guidelines enforcement, New York has been broken up into regional economic development councils. The local task force, or “control room” contains members of the LIA, Bellone, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D), among others. It is captained by Longworth.

It’s a balancing act, trying to keep businesses healthy while avoiding a resurgence of the virus that would surely shut these businesses down for good. LIA’s Law said he received Port Jeff Village’s letter and has brought it up to members of the control room, whom he said were entirely sympathetic to the issues restaurants were having. Law, who has been at the forefront of Long Island’s reopening plan from the start, said hearing that armed and armored individuals have helped conduct inspections concerned everyone sitting at their daily video control center meetings.

“It’s impossible for them to inspect every restaurant and bar, because there’s just so many of them, so I think they were making some restaurants sort of the poster children for: if you don’t comply, you face some significant penalties,” Law said. “I think it was important that word did get out there so some businesses would comply. We all know with every type of category with every business, you have good guys and you have a couple knuckleheads who don’t obey by the rules and they ruin it for others.”

He said he and others did appreciate the village officials’ idea of focusing more on inspections of bars open in the early morning hours instead of weekday dinner time.

Though at the same time, Law said he and the local control room are only really in advisory positions, and it would require change on the state level to truly impact the rate of current inspections.

Either way, restaurants still remain in a tough spot, and Luciano said he and so many others continue to struggle.

“Our landlords and vendors don’t take IOUs,” the PJ Lobster House owner said. “We’ve done everything that has been asked. The numbers are way lower than they were. It’s been over six months. We can’t hang on that much longer, we are on a sinking ship.”

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Employees from Port Jefferson Station and Terryville gas stations were arrested Jan. 31 for allegedly selling alcohol to minors, according to the Suffolk County Police Department.

The arrests came as a result of New York State Liquor Authority inspections Jan. 31 in the Town of Brookhaven, police said. Due to numerous community complaints, 6th Precinct Crime Section officers conducted SLA inspections utilizing underage police agents, according to police. The police agents attempted to purchase alcoholic beverages from targeted businesses within the town. Employees at Sunoco gas stations located at 669 Old Town Road in Terryville and and 200 Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station allegedly sold an alcoholic beverage to an underage police agent.

Paresh Patel, 25, and Tirath Ram, 61, both of Port Jefferson Station, were charged with ABC Law 65.1 – Sale to Persons Under 21. They were issued Field Appearance Tickets and are scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip April 2, 2018.

The following businesses complied with the New York State Liquor Authority and refused to sell an alcoholic beverage to an underage police agent:

File photo

Suffolk County Police have arrested two people as a result of a month long investigation at businesses located within the 4th Precinct. Fourth Precinct Crime Section officers conducted an investigation into the sale of alcohol to minors during which nine businesses were checked for compliance with the law in Commack, Smithtown, Kings Park and East Northport, according to police.

The following clerks were arrested and charged with first-degree unlawfully dealing with a minor after they sold alcohol to a minor.

  • Thomas Watson, 22, of Northport, employed at Speedway gas station, located at 152 East Northport Road, Kings Park
  • A 16 year-old male juvenile, employed at BP gas station located at 94 Pulaski Road, Kings Park.

The following establishments were in compliance:

  • Shell gas station, located at 700 Commack Road, Commack
  • BP gas station, located at 621 Commack Road, Commack
  • Citgo gas station, located at 100 Crooked Hill Road, Commack
  • Speedway gas station, located at 2104 Jericho Turnpike, Commack
  • Speedway gas station, located at 38 Indian Head Road, Kings Park
  • Mobil gas station, located at 819 W. Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown
  • BP gas station, located at 1007 W. Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown

Watson and the juvenile were issued Field Appearance Tickets and are scheduled to appear in First District Court in Central Islip Jan. 2, 2018. The State Liquor Authority is conducting a follow up investigation.

File photo

Suffolk County Police arrested two people Saturday, Feb. 25 during New York State Liquor Authority inspections at Town of Huntington businesses.

Officers from the 2nd Precinct Crime Section, Community Support Unit, and Gang Team conducted an underage alcohol and tobacco check at nine businesses in Huntington. Some of the businesses were chosen in response to community complaints and others were randomly selected.

Yousef Macer, 22, employed by Superstar Beverage, located on Walt Whitman Road in Melville, was charged with first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child and New York State Alcoholic Beverage Control Law 65.1-sale of alcohol to a person under 21.

Hakan Ekren, 48, employed by Sunoco Gas, located on Broad Hollow Road in Melville, was charged with second-degree unlawfully dealing with a child for selling a tobacco product to a minor.

The above subjects were issued field appearance tickets and are scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip at a later date.

The following businesses complied with the New York State law and refused the sale of alcohol/tobacco to a minor:

  • 110 Convenience Store, located at 213 Walt Whitman Road in Huntington Station
  • BP Gas Station, located at 231 Walt Whitman Road in Huntington Station
  • Citgo Gas Station, located at 475 Walt Whitman Road in Huntington Station
  • Gulf Gas Station, located at 743 Walt Whitman Road in Melville
  • P and P Deli, located at 139 West Hills Road in Huntington Station
  • Citgo Gas Station, located at 1811 New York Ave. in Huntington Station
  • Valencia Tavern, located at 236 Wall St. in Huntington