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Canceled school break a bust for businesses

Mike D'Ambrosio, operations manager at Baldwin Bowl, says

Mike D'Ambrosio, operations manager at Baldwin Bowl, says the bowling alley is bracing for a lot fewer school kids -- and their staycation dollars -- coming through the doors due to many Long Island school districts deciding to cancel midwinter recess. (Feb. 11, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

During Presidents' Week, Baldwin Bowl usually has its best week of the year, playing host to as many as 3,000 kids and 10 birthday parties. The seven-day period can generate between $15,000 and $20,000 in revenue, according to Mike D'Ambrosio, Baldwin's operations manager.

But that's hardly the case this week.

Instead, the bowling alley is bracing for a lot fewer school kids -- and their staycation dollars -- coming through the doors. Courtesy of superstorm Sandy's continuing aftershocks, two-thirds of Long Island's public school districts have opted to eliminate part, if not all, of the February vacation to make up for the missed school days after the storm.

"We'll lose business during the day and night," said D'Ambrosio.

Across Long Island, it's not just school kids singing the no-vacation blues. After enduring a host of Sandy-inflicted hardships, kid-friendly businesses and cultural institutions are lamenting a week with fewer children -- and their parents -- to fill their coffers.

Rather than let the week run its course, many businesses are seeking to minimize the damage even a curtailed midwinter vacation can do to their bottom lines. Their traffic-building efforts this week include everything from after-school discounts to extended hours of operation.

Baldwin Bowl, for instance, is running a promotion offering unlimited games from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. for $10, including shoe rental, instead of charging kids the customary fee of $5.75 a game and $4.50 for shoes.

Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center in Riverhead, which projects revenue to drop as much as 20 percent during the week, has joined with the adjacent Hyatt Place East End & Resort Marina to help bolster its visitor attendance. The hotel's "Cabin Fever" package, which features a one-night stay that starts at $139, includes pizzas, sodas and a movie as well as discounted tickets to the aquarium and its interactive experiences.

Andrew Schwaeber, who owns Pump It Up franchises in Plainview and Bohemia, which feature indoor inflatable playground equipment, derives most of his revenue from private parties. To cushion midweek party cancellations, as well as an expected downturn in playtime reservations for individual kids, Pump It Up plans to offer a $50 reduction on parties held between this Tuesday and Friday.

"Net-net we will lose some business, but it's not crippling," especially compared to the amount of business the firm lost because of Sandy and the recent blizzard, said Schwaeber.

Local nonprofits are also preparing for low visitor turnout. The Garden City-based Nassau County Firefighters Museum & Education Center, which typically generates $5,000, or 3 percent of its overall revenue, during Presidents' Week, will close two hours later than usual -- at 5 p.m., according to director Alana Petrocelli.

"As much as we can, we will encourage people to give donations" to make up for lost admission fees, she said.

It's not the first time Sandy has reversed the museum's fortunes. After the storm, it was closed for two weeks -- during Fire Prevention Month, a peak time for school trips -- because employees, most of whom are required to serve as volunteer firefighters, were helping with post-Sandy rescue and relief efforts. As a result, the museum lost about $5,000 in revenue.

"We're a small nonprofit and every dollar counts," said Petrocelli.

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