The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which operates the Stony Brook...

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which operates the Stony Brook Village Center, holds its annual staff holiday party at the Take Out Inn on Dec. 18. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Stony Brook’s newest inn is the latest example of how businesses struggling with coronavirus-related restrictions are trying to survive.

With seating capacity at its small restaurants and coffee shops limited to 50%, managers at the Stony Brook Village Center shopping mall opened a vacant clothing store last month to help bring in more business.

The store — now called The Take Out Inn — provides 15 additional seats for nearby eateries such as Crazy Beans coffee shop, Robinson’s Tea Room and the Italian restaurant Pentimento. It also provides an area where customers can pick up takeout orders.

It’s been such a success that Brookhaven officials hope to replicate the idea throughout town.

"It’s definitely helped business and helped bring people to the village center," said Tim Martino, who co-owns Crazy Beans with his wife, Callie. "Our takeout business has probably gone up about 30%. Since the pandemic, it’s been going well."

Gloria Rocchio, the mall’s president, said the idea came from a conversation earlier this year with Suffolk County Department of Health officials who wondered why malls didn’t use empty space to help restaurants. Rocchio said the county and Brookhaven Town officials helped develop the idea and expedite approvals.

Rocchio said the storefront became available when the parent company of its previous tenant, clothing retailer Jos. A. Bank, filed for bankruptcy. A bankruptcy court judge allowed the mall to assume the lease to use the space, she said.

Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which...

Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which operates the Stony Brook Village Center, thanks her staff for gifts given to her during the annual holiday party for the organization's staff on Friday. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The Take Out Inn is decorated with a faux fireplace and artificial trees to enhance its appearance, she said.

"It’s the centerpiece of the village [center]," Rocchio said. "You don’t want to leave it empty, so it makes sense."

In a statement, Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the inn "is a great idea that other communities should embrace to keep restaurants open and profitable throughout the pandemic. These are difficult times and government must be proactive so we can help businesses survive and keep their customers safe."

County operating permits are not required to repurpose vacant spaces, but there are limits on how the spaces can be used, Suffolk health department spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern wrote in an email. Table service is not allowed, and food and beverage preparation is prohibited, she added.

Martino said seating capacity at Crazy Beans is limited by COVID-19 restrictions to 12 seats, half its usual capacity of 24. The additional chairs at the Take Out Inn allow Crazy Beans customers to relax amid holiday shopping, he said.

"They like the idea," Martino said. "For people who want to shop down there and get something for lunch, if they can sit down and have some kind of normalcy it helps, instead of taking their food and eating in the car."

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