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State park concessions back in business; historic sites move closer to reopening

Jimmy and Elias Trahanas, owners of the Golden

Jimmy and Elias Trahanas, owners of the Golden Reef Diner in Rockville Centre, and operators of a new food concession at Robert Moses State Park. Credit: Mark Harrington

Long Island historic sites are inching open after the pandemic lockdown, while thirsty and hungry state park beachgoers no longer will have to bring their own comestibles.

"We were on pins and needles," said Elias Trahanas, whose family holds the food concession at Robert Moses State Park in Babylon, “and we’re ecstatic” to be reopening, starting at Field 5 on Sunday.

“We might not have everything on the menu,” he said by telephone, describing this first effort as a soft opening. “We’re going to give it our best,” he said, adding every food stand at the park will be open by Friday — and serving handmade gelato.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday evening announced that state park concessions could start serving patrons.

"After consulting with State Health Commissioner Dr. [Howard] Zucker and local stakeholders, we have decided that concessions will be allowed to open with restrictions at state ocean and lakefront beaches beginning this Sunday, July 12th,” Cuomo said in a statement.

He added: “This includes concessions at popular destinations such as Jones Beach, Robert Moses, Sunken Meadow, and Lake Welch in Harriman State Park.”

Concession and historic site officials all stressed that they are following strict rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including hand sanitizing and social distancing.

At Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, Coe Hall opened Wednesday to members who are being offered private tours of "The Electrifying Art and Spaces of Robert Winthrop Chanler" exhibit.

The tours featuring murals by Chanler are limited to five members of a household. The price is $20.

The park’s grounds remained open despite the pandemic — and proved quite popular.

“We had an incredible surge in visitors,” with attendance just about tripling, said Gina Wouters, executive director of the Planting Fields Foundation.

Tours of Chanler's art are set open to the general public on Aug. 1.

Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Park in Huntington Station plans to open Aug. 1, and will highlight new acquisitions received from donors, according to Cynthia Shor, executive director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.

New exhibits include a 1942 oil painting of the poet, original music scores by composers who set his words to music, and a 1950s gadget for viewing stereographic slides that includes an image taken by renowned photographer Mathew Brady, Shor said.

At Robert Moses, Trahanas left a seven-year career as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at BakerHostetler in Manhattan to help his father and brother bring their successful Rockville Centre diner business to a food concession business at the park.

He helped write the proposal to win the bid in January to supply food for the four big stands at the park, and the family spent $600,000 to get the place ready, including importing six new gelato displays from Italy, flown in to make the spring-summer season, at a cost of $6,000.

Then COVID-19 hit, and shut down the family’s dream.

While the concession has remained closed on hot summer beach days, Trahanas said, patrons have been banging on the doors pleading with his staff to buy water, which many traveled to the park expecting they would be able to buy. He said he has given it away for free.

The food stands don’t have any indoor seating — tables are all outside.

“We’ve done everything in our power to make sure it’s safe,” Trahanas said, including face masks for workers, social distancing markers, plans for deep and frequent cleaning and proper signage. He has already recovered from COVID-19 himself, he said, “which is why we take this very seriously.”

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