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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.”

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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.

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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.”

When the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic truly hit home back in March, after businesses were forced closed from state mandates, many turned to their insurance providers and filed for business interruption insurance, which they expected would be used for just this sort of occasion.

Only many received notifications back that their claims were denied. The reason: Insurance companies put in provisions within their policies that excluded coverage due to damages “caused by or resulting from any virus, bacterium or other microorganism that induced or is capable of including physical distress, illness or disease,” according to the Insurance Services Office, an insurance advisory organization.

Though business owners and small business advocates such as The Ward Melville Heritage Organization President Gloria Rocchio pay the premiums year after year, she said they and so many others were denied coverage despite the fact that small businesses didn’t close because they or their shops were confirmed with the virus, but government orders forced them to close. 

“Very simplistically, [business owners] buy themselves a job for the community, and now they’re made to lay off people, keep their business closed, pay all fixed overheads and maybe they don’t have a reserve at home,” Rocchio said. “Everything the government is putting forth is not helping the small businessman — the one who doesn’t have a million in the bank and is paying fixed expenses.”

Efforts on Local and State Levels

The provision in many insurance policies was instituted little less than two decades ago after the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic of the early 2000s. It is only now, almost 20 years later, that owners filing claims learn of the provision despite them having paid premiums for years.

There is a combined bill in the New York State Assembly and Senate to require companies to accept current interruption claims. 

WMHO submitted a public letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) April 22 requesting he supports the Assembly and Senate bill. 

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable.”

— Steve Englebright

“An insurance policy is a contract between the insured and the insurer that clearly spells out those conditions covered and excluded,” the letter reads. “In recent years, because of severe losses, insurers have added exclusions to their policies, slowly diminishing the very purpose of insurance.”

The state Assembly bill is being sponsored in part by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), and there is a concurrent bill in the state Senate. It would require insurance agencies to cover businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and would renew any policy that would have covered businesses during shutdown if they expired in the meantime. New York is just one state of seven which is proposing bills to mandate coverage.

“Insurance is controlling risk, that’s what insurance companies do,” Englebright said. “What we’re saying is risk transfer needs to occur with this type of policy in a more predictable manner and a more eligible manner than the fine print currently allows.”

The bill is still in the Assembly Insurance Committee, but Englebright, a ranking assemblyman, said it is picking up widespread support in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. 

He added he does not believe what insurance companies say when they argue accepting businesses claims would bankrupt their agencies.

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable,” Englebright said. 

Multiple local government and industry groups have come out in support of such a bill. The Long Island Builders Institute released a letter supporting the legislation, saying that if a business has been paying for its insurance, it should honor the claims. 

Mitch Pally, CEO of LIBI, said the insurance companies denying these claims will only create a deeper hole in the economy, which will be an even greater burden to the insurance companies if they go under and no longer can pay their premiums. He also predicted dire consequences to many businesses if claims continue to be denied by June 30 “because the people who bought them didn’t assume their business can be interrupted by something that doesn’t apply [to the insurance].” 

The Brookhaven Town Board and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also signed a letter asking Cuomo to throw his support behind the bills.

Federal Efforts

There is a bill currently lingering in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) that would require insurance companies in the future from denying company’s claims based on a pandemic, but even that has seen “tremendous pushback from the insurance industry,” he said during a Zoom call hosted by Discover Long Island May 19. “It’s very controversial — I’m getting the crap kicked out of me by certain people.”

Suozzi, who was appointed by President Donald Trump (R) to the economic reopening task force, said he did not believe anything regarding interruption insurance will see the light of day in some of the large stimulus bills Congress is currently working on.

Some policyholders nationwide have sued their insurance companies for denying their claims. A barbershop owner in San Diego has created a class action lawsuit against his policyholder, Farmers Insurance Group, for denying his claim under such virus damages provisions. Several other class-action lawsuits have been filed in the past month and a half against several other insurance companies.

Though such lawsuits take months if not years to get going, and especially with many court systems largely shut down from the pandemic, it will be a while before any cases see a judge.

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business,” Pally said.

Insurance Providers Respond

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association has said if governments required the companies process these claims, it would mean companies would have to process over 30 million businesses suffering from COVID-19-related losses. APCIA President David Sampson was quoted on Twitter saying requiring so would “significantly undermine” their abilities to cover such things as wind damage, fire or other losses.

The industry as a whole currently sits on an $800 billion surplus, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That business group released a report May 15 with statements from 50 experts from the Wisconsin School of Business insurance panel that if local governments force insurance companies to accept the claims, it will “threaten the solvency of the insurance industry.” Though the report is sponsored by the association through its independent research division, most experts on the panel largely agreed the private marketplace could not handle all the losses with the current surplus in the industry. 

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business.”

— Mitch Pally

Though in that same study, some experts, 13 percent of the 50, argued the industry could be able to handle the claims, depending on how federal legislation was enacted. 

Industry lobbyists have said the federal government should be providing help, but one example of small business aid, the Paycheck Protection Program, which was supposed to help keep many small shops in business, has been mired in problems since its inception, and many owners are simply refusing to use the funds fearing they will have to pay back the money long term as a loan. 

The Washington Post reported last month that insurance associations and business groups are hiring lobbyists specifically to play out this fight in Washington, D.C.

What some are hoping for is some kind of middle ground, a place where insurers and the federal government’s interests meet. One suggested draft bill, the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020, would pay agencies losses when those exceed $250 million and capped at $500 billion over the calendar year, though that bill would only cover future pandemics, and more insurance companies have come out saying it should be the federal government which needs to handle such calls for aid, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Suozzi said he agreed most insurance companies would be “wiped out” trying to cover interruption claims during the pandemic, but also put stock in a public-private partnership, including the possibility of using the infrastructure of the insurance industries to funnel money back into these businesses.

“The bottom line is there’s no relief right now — it’s not going to solve anybody’s problems right now — and I don’t want anybody to get their hopes up,” the congressman said. “But it’s something I’m conscious of and other people are working on it — we just don’t know what the right answer is yet to get it done, because there is so much incredible pushback from the other side.”

In the meantime, Pally said it’s best for businesses to continue writing their state and federal officials. Rocchio suggested that owners, despite the fact some agencies are advising not to bother to file a claim, should apply anyway should anything change in the near future.

Stock photo

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said today while 25 people have died due to COVID-19 in the past day, New York State data shows the county’s total deaths related to COVID-19 jumped by 226 since last reported two days ago. The total deaths jumped from 1,296 to 1,522.

“This number lists numbers of people who may have been presumed COVID positive,” Bellone said. “This includes persons who were from nursing homes who are now added to that list.”

While from May 3 to May 5, the numbers of deaths the state reported from nursing homes jumped by only around 30, the spike is a prodding reminder the final death toll from the virus could be much higher than what residents are currently seeing in daily reports. The county executive said it will take time before we finally get the full and clear picture.

“We have been talking about this for weeks, that the official numbers being reported are under what the full amount will be. If I had to say we won’t’ know the full number until after this is over and we are looking back.”

804 more people tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 39,789 in Suffolk. Antibody testing initiatives have resulted in 3,531 being confirmed to have the antibodies, with those numbers being added to the list of confirmed cases.

Otherwise, Suffolk County is continuing to see a downward trend in overall hospitalizations, with 54 less people in hospitals bringing the total to 719.

“We seem to be back on our downward trend for hospitalizations,” Bellone said.

Though hospitalizations decreased, the numbers of ICU patients went up by six to a total of 301. 

Hospital capacity is sitting at 3,062 beds, with 841 available. That puts Suffolk at 73 percent capacity, which is slightly above reopening targets of 70 percent. For ICU beds 600, 180 are available, which is right at the required 70 percent. 88 people in the last 24 hours have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering at home.

These data points are paths county officials are closely following, as they are the leading to a path that could hopefully begin the reopening process for Suffolk. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York Pause order is set to expire May 15, though the governor has expressed multiple times that upstate regions, which were hurt much less than the city, Nassau and Suffolk, will likely begin reopening first. 

Either way, the county executive said progress is being made on reopening efforts. With six different committees working on different aspects and plans, some task forces are making headway. The county said it would release a resource guide for businesses on reopening, working in everything from federal and state resources to what’s currently available on the local level. That guide can be found at suffolkcountyny.gov/bru which should be available before the end of the day May 7.

Meanwhile, Cuomo announced further relief efforts for renters, preventing them from being evicted due to not being able to pay rent from now until Aug. 20.

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.

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Gabriela Schwender and Deborah Scalione have created a mobile craft workshop, like a foot truck for hand made items. Photos from Schwender

“Why not bring the arts and crafts to customers?” thought Gabriela Schwender and Deborah Scalcione, who together run Long Island Crafty Ones, a mobile and traveling workshop based in Rocky Point. 

Now such an idea is a reality.

Children attempt crafts in LI Crafty One’s mobile workshop. Photo from Schwender

The duo, who both describe themselves as passionate about creativity and craftwork said the idea to create the mobile workshop came to fruition a year ago. They decided to join forces after Schwender posted a message on Facebook looking for someone to collaborate with on crafts. 

Initially the pair looked at retail frontage in the Rocky Point area but realized it wasn’t a good fit. 

“We looked at a number of storefronts, but the rent was too expensive, we just couldn’t afford it,” Scalcione said. “After that we were, like, ‘Why don’t we go to the people and travel around?’”

From there, the duo purchased an RV and decided to convert the inside into their workplace area. 

Schwender said they work closely with their clients to see what they are looking for. 

“We bring everything to them, and they are surprised when we tell them we can come to them,” she said. 

Scalcione said that they really try to customize customers experiences. She mentioned a recent birthday party they had worked at. 

“It was an older girl’s birthday, and before we asked what she likes, her mother said she really likes to drink coffee and we thought why not marble some coffee mugs,” Scalcione said. “It turned out to be great — they had a lot of fun.” 

Schwender said they started out slow due to people not necessarily knowing what they offered, but the feedback they have gotten from customers has been positive. 

Gabriela Schwender and Deborah Scalione have created a mobile craft workshop, like a foot truck for hand made items. Photos from Schwender

“They are amazed with what we bring and what we offer,” she said. “They can’t believe we have an RV and think it’s a great idea.” 

Scalcione mentioned their services cater to children and adults. 

Recently, the partners joined the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce and said the connections with other businesses have very been helpful. 

For the fall season, the pair will have a table every weekend at the Bakewicz Farms Fall Festival in Wading River, doing face paintings and customizing “Toy Story” figurines that fit in with the local festival’s theme. 

In addition, the duo said they offer workshops aimed at a multitude of skill sets and they plan on offering seasonal craft sessions for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

“We really want [everybody] to be excited about crafting and get them to make something on their own,” Schwender said. “We want to help build up your skills.”

Scalcione said she is glad they are getting more exposure and more people are finding what they do. The duo hopes to continue expanding and possibly buy a second RV or a bigger vehicle.

“I think it is a lost art — we really want people to work with their hands and seeing what they can create,” she said.

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Renee Goldfarb, the owner of Origin of Era. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Karina Gerry and Kyle Barr

The winds of change have began to blow in Port Jefferson village as the new year brings a host of changes to the area’s small businesses.

A few restaurants in the area are closing. Japanese restaurant Oceans 88, famous for its sushi bar, planned to be closed Jan. 31. Owners did not respond for requests to comment.

“There’s no more sushi in the village, that’s a real shame,” said village Mayor Margot Garant.

Though not all is bad as a number of new shops, both new names and old names, take shape all around the village.

Billie’s 1890 Saloon

Billie’s 1890 Saloon, a Port Jefferson staple, has reopened its doors after a kitchen fire forced it to close two years ago.

The bar and restaurant located on Main Street is back in business under its original ownership. Founded in 1981 by Billie E. Phillips and his late first wife, Billie’s 1890 Saloon soon became a community favorite. In 1987, after six years, Phillips sold his business, but after the fire in June of 2016 he purchased the restaurant and bar back with his son, Billie S. Phillips, and set about renovating the space. 

Billie’s 1890 Saloon. Photo by Kyle Barr

While the layout of Billie’s has remained relatively the same, the crowd has changed.

“It’s a more grown-up establishment,” Phillips Jr. said. “The same tables, and bar length and everything like that but it’s just been cleaned up and refurbished and we’re just going for a little more of an adult crowd than what it had turned out to be before the fire.”

Before the 2016 fire, Billie’s was considered a college bar, tailoring to the younger crowd with its infamous wheel, which was spun every hour and wherever the wheel landed was the drink that would be offered at a reduced price. Now, it has an age limit of 23, pushing away the crowd that made it so popular before.

“The new Billie’s seems to have a very different vibe,” Christopher Gulino, a former East Setauket resident said. “The renovations look great, but I think the customers that were regularly going to Billie’s when it was previously opened were looking forward to seeing the same old Billie’s.”

While the younger crowd may not be too happy with the changes to Billie’s, Phillips Jr. said they were necessary for the business to succeed.

“Billie’s had become the local meeting place and people have very fond memories of it,” Billie the younger said. “But I don’t think the business model they had would have survived much longer.”

New shop from East Main & Main

Food lovers can rejoice as one of the owners of East Main & Main is opening a new restaurant in Port Jefferson village.

Lisa Harris and her husband Robert Strehle opened the popular donut shop in June 2017, offering customers new flavors of donuts daily. After the success of the donut shop, Harris is ready to take on a new solo venture, a restaurant that offers brunch, lunch, dinner and shareable appetizers.

“It’s always been my dream to own a restaurant and run a restaurant,” Lisa Harris said. “It just seemed like the natural next step — it seemed like it was something that we were ready to take a chance.”

The new restaurant is slated to open around the end of February on Main Street. Harris said she plans for the space to have a casual comfortable vibe.

East Main and Main in Port Jefferson Village. Photo by David Lucas

“We didn’t have to do any building, any construction, or anything like that,” Harris noted. “We were very lucky because the restaurant there had pretty much everything we needed, it was just something we had to make our own by changing the color scheme and doing a lot of cleaning.”

Harris plans on having some crossover between the staff at the donut shop and the new restaurant, but she is also looking to hire a full-time crew.

“So we will be creating some new jobs,” Harris said. “Probably seven to 10 new jobs will be created in Port Jefferson, which will be great.”

While rumors have been making their rounds that East Main & Main is closing, Harris assures that’s not the case.

“We’re not moving the donut shop,” Harris said. “The donut shop is staying right where it is.”

And if donuts are more your thing, don’t worry, as Harris insists her and her husband are open to the idea of opening up another space somewhere else if the right opportunity comes along.

“It’s finding the right spot is always a challenge,” Harris said. “We’re kind of so spoiled here because of the foot traffic that we get. It’s just always exciting and fun, so we’re looking for a spot that is very similar to Port Jeff and there aren’t a lot of towns like Port Jeff.”

Origin of Era

A new clothing shop that just opened Jan. 26 in Chandler Square is looking to attract women of all shapes and sizes with a fashion-forward, inclusive ideal.

Renee Goldfarb, the owner of Origin of Era, is a Long Island native but has spent much of her life living in Queens and Brooklyn and abroad while working in the fashion industry. 

“I worked in film and fashion for 15 years — moved abroad and worked in Prague and Berlin. I worked in two corporations in branding, but I didn’t want to make money for anyone else anymore, I wanted to do it for myself,” she said.

Origin of Era in Port Jefferson Village. Photo by Kyle Barr

The owner opened and operated another store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for several years before she and her husband bought a home in Amityville Harbor. When coming to Long Island Goldfarb wanted to find a town that had the same sense of community she originally felt in that city neighborhood. Her selection was between Babylon village and Port Jeff village, but she chose the latter because she said the elected officials had small businesses in mind, especially with events like the annual Charles Dickens Festival.

While she said her previous store focused on vintage clothing, her new shop emphasizes the modern. In terms of her clothing selection, Goldfarb supplies sizes from extra small to extra-large, and offers free alterations to any items purchased in the store. The brand selection encompasses companies from the U.S., Spain, the U.K., India and China, though she stressed she only selected ethically produced clothing.

Most important in her selection, she said, was the emphasis on getting clothing only designed by women.

“If I owned a woman’s store I would make sure we represented all women and made it inclusive,” Goldfarb siad. “That’s why I wanted to make sure we only carried female designers … If we think logically, we are catering to women, nobody knows women best but a woman.”

A sign in front of The Gift Corner on North Country Road at Mount Sinai invites those passing by to shop Nov. 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

A sign on North Country Road in front of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai during the Black Friday weekend could be easy to miss. Cars passing by had only seconds to read the words “Small Store Saturday — If you haven’t been here, today is the day!” as they drove on the winding road.

Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner, was busy on Small Business Saturday and the entire Black Friday weekend, marked on the calendar by shop owners and customers alike as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season. The small space, packed with small decorations and knickknacks, had customers squeezing past each other as they picked out their holiday gifts. Despite the bump in business Bernholz saw over the weekend, she wondered why relatively few people have even heard of Small Business Saturday.

“How long has this been going on, eight to 10 years?” the gift shop owner said. “It still cracks me up we have people coming in on Saturday and, holy Christmas, they say, ‘What is small store Saturday?’”

Small Business Saturday originally started in 2010, sponsored by American Express, as a way to incentivize people to shop local during the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

American Express reported the weekend after Thanksgiving was quite a busy time for small businesses across the nation. Consumers spent approximately $17.8 billion nationally while shopping local, according to data released Nov. 26 from the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey from American Express and the nonprofit National Federation of Independent Business. The survey noted 42 percent of those surveyed reported shopping at local retailers and restaurants, just 1 percent down from last year. Still, 41 percent reported also shopping online that same day.

Those small business owners surveyed in the report said they expect an average of 29 percent of their total yearly sales to come through the holiday season, yet the owners of local small stores on the North Shore know they have a disadvantage compared to big box stores and the online retail giant Amazon and the like.

“People should understand how hard it is to run a small business,” Maria Williams, the owner of Sweets N Scoops in Shoreham said. “A small business’ costs are necessarily greater because we can’t buy in bulk like [large businesses] can.”

Business owners across the North Shore reported a range of outcomes from the busy shopping weekend.

Port Jefferson

Outside Ecolin Jewlers in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ecolin Jewelers, 14 E. Broadway, Port Jefferson

Linda Baker, co-owner of Ecolin Jewelers, said while most of her sales come in the last two weeks before Christmas, and not the Black Friday weekend, the year overall has been very good for her business.

“This whole year has been better,” Baker said. “This is probably the best in maybe eight years.”

She said she she’s experienced more people coming in toward the end of the year, with the phones constantly ringing off the hook with people’s orders, adding she’s feeling good about her numbers for the season.

“I’m glad to see that people are happy, walking around and coming into stores,” she said.

Outside East End Shirt Co. in Port Jefferson. Photo Courtesy of Google Maps

The East End Shirt Company, 3 Mill Creek Road, Port Jefferson

Owner of The East End Shirt Company, Mary Joy Pipe, said her business participated in the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce annual Holiday Shopping Crawl, offering a free hoodie valued at $20 for those spending $50 in store. She added turnout on Small Business Saturday was comparable to last year, and that has always had to do with the foot traffic and the weather.

“Our Santa Parade brings a lot of people down into the village, and more folks are around for the extended holiday after Thanksgiving,” she said. “We need feet on the ground and nice weather, and we got that on Saturday.”

Pipe’s business has changed with the times. East End Shirt has both a website and brick-and-mortar storefront, but her online component is a comparatively small percentage of her sales compared to her shop, which has existed in Port Jeff for close to four decades, she said.

“Is Cyber Monday or Cyber Week having an effect? — yeah it is,” she said. “People are not coming out, but anything that has a shipping component I know the potential for retail is still there if they can’t get it shipped in time.”

Outside Red Shirt Comics in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Red Shirt Comics, 322 Main St., Port Jefferson

Joshua Darbee, the owner of Red Shirt Comics, said he had multiple sales going on, including buy-one-get-one-free on new comics, 25 percent off back issue comics, and 20 percent off on most of the toys and graphic novels in the shop. As a store that only opened in 2017, Darbee has been working to build a loyal customer base.

“If people are going to buy on Amazon, they’re going to buy on Amazon,” he said. “There’s really no competing with them.”

The comic industry relies on periodicals, driving customers back monthly for the next issue in an ongoing series, and Darbee said without return customers there is no way his business can thrive. He saw a steady stream of traffic come into his shop during Black Friday weekend — a better turnout than last year — and he hopes those sales, along with his card game and tabletop role-playing events hosted at the shop, will bring in return customers.

“The hope is that people will see the long-term damage [Amazon and other online retailers] can do to the local economy,” he said. “You just have to try to engage with people, be friendly and be part of that community. It’s been awesome to see people go out on weekends like this and support small businesses.”

Shoreham to Mount Sinai

Game On, 465 Route 25A, Miller Place

Tristan Whitworth, the owner of video game shop Game On in Miller Place said his business did well the days after Thanksgiving, this year seeing a 30 percent increase in customers compared to last year. He attracted customers with select sales of up to 60 percent off specific products, which incentivized people to come in and spend time on the few video game consoles he set up around the shop.

“It’s making sure the customer knows that we’re there to give them a good shopping experience,” Whitworth said. “I always try to keep it so that it’s not about customers rushing in to make a sale. People were there for an hour or two even though it was Black Friday.”

Whitworth said he knows there is a huge market for used video games online, but he always tries to make his business about the customer service.

“You can get every single thing we sell online, so it’s really about having the experience of going to the shop and buying stuff, talk to the guy who owns it about what game you should buy or try out,” he said. “That’s what you need.”

Sweets & Scoops in Shoreham. Photo courtesy of Sweets & Scoops Facebook page

Sweets & Scoops, 99 Route 25A, Shoreham

While Maria Williams, owner of dessert haven Sweets & Scoops, said most of her business occurs just before holidays, rather than afterward, but she was pleased with the sales she had for people ordering custom chocolate arrangements and other party favors.

She said she sees the importance of local business as a means of giving vitality to an area.

“People need to stop shopping on Amazon,” Williams said. “If they stay local and shop local in small business we do well, and we can hire more people.”

The sweets shop owner said the best product she and other small businesses can offer people is something unique. She said she tries her best to make items customized for the individual, products that one cannot get anywhere else.

“It’s eight years now that I’ve been in business and thank god it became a success because of its uniqueness,” Williams said. “[Large corporations] don’t have that extra touch, and everything is so commercial with them. Here no two things are ever alike.”

Outside The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Gift Corner, 157 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai

Bernholz said last year’s Black Friday weekend was one of the busiest in years, with lines going out the door of her small North Country Road gift shop. This year was also good for her business.

“We did well on Friday, but Saturday was awesome,” Bernholz said. “It was very packed all day, and so many people came in that are my regulars — really showing their loyalty.”

Bernholz business has been around for close to 30 years, but she said she is not very active on the internet, nor is she proficient with technology in general. She still relies on her dedicated customers, some of whom bought holiday gifts from her as kids and continue to buy them as adults.

Her dedicated customers even advertise for her. The Gift Corner has signs along Route 25A promoting her shop, but it was one put up for free, without even originally letting Bernholz know they were there.

“I don’t advertise, I have never advertised,” she said. “A customer does that on their own … It’s unbelievable.”