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BusinessCoronavirus

LI businesses request 'essential' designation. Then they wait.

Chris Squeri, executive director of the 150-member New

Chris Squeri, executive director of the 150-member New York Marine Trades Association in Amityville, pictured in 2011. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hundreds of businesses across the state want to be designated "essential" so they can resume operating.

Empire State Development, the state's primary business-aid agency, decides whether a business is essential or nonessential during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency has received more than 16,000 emails from business owners requesting to be classified as essential or asking questions about the classifications.

On Long Island, owners of marinas have been waiting weeks for a determination.

"We haven't gotten an answer one way or the other. ... [ESD] is overwhelmed by all the requests," said Chris Squeri, executive director of the 150-member New York Marine Trades Association in Amityville. "We believe that we're essential because we do boat repairs, we're transportation, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said marine vessel employees are essential."

He pointed to the ESD website, which lists automobile and bicycle repair shops, airports and buses and trains as essential businesses.

"When guys are working on boats, they are outside and way more than six feet from each other," Squeri said. Government officials "are asking people to recreate. What better way is there for a family than to take out their boat? We believe we can do this in a safe and healthy way," he said.

ESD spokeswoman Kristin Devoe couldn't provide information this week on the number of approved applications for the essential business designation. But she said, "We are reviewing them as quickly as possible."

Last week, real estate agents, inspectors and appraisers were classified as essential if they work virtually or from their office. Also classified as essential were nurseries and greenhouses that sell food producing plants and landscape companies, if their services are for property maintenance and pest control. 

ESD CEO Eric J. Gertler told the agency's board last month, "On essential business designations, we’ve had over 16,000 emails asking for clarifications and responses” in a two-week period ending March 26. 

Nonessential businesses were shut down March 22 by order of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to combat the virus' spread. He has since extended the order twice; it now goes through April 29.

Essential businesses include health care facilities and laboratories, providers of medical supplies, utilities, hotels, grocery and drug stores, gas stations, hardware and appliance stores, laundromats, media companies, banks and other financial institutions, and some construction and manufacturing enterprises.

Still, some nonessential businesses aren't waiting to hear from ESD before continuing to operate or to reopen – both violations of Cuomo’s order – and state and local law enforcement are cracking down.

The state attorney general's office had contacted more than 375 businesses across the state as of Monday about whether they should be operating. Most closed voluntarily after being informed they were nonessential. 

On Long Island, a handful of violators have agreed to shut down after being told to do so by police. These include gyms, bars, stationery shops and a roofing company. In Nassau County, the Fire Marshal's Office has issued warnings to more than 150 businesses, but only a dozen required appearance tickets and the prospect of fines of up to $5,000 before they closed, according to a county spokeswoman.

To request an "essential'' designation, business owners must complete a one-page questionnaire at nwsdy.li/essential. They must provide a description of the business including its industry classification, known as a NAICS code, and number of employees at the location that has been closed to combat the virus' spread.

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