In-store retail began returned on Long Island as part of the second phase of reopening, but it’s not business as usual — coronavirus guidelines remain in effect. Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Howard Schnapp

After nearly three months in lockdown, Long Island businesses cautiously swung open their doors Wednesday as the region entered Phase 2 — the most critical stage to date in the long-awaited economic recovery.

It was hardly the usual for businesses allowed to reopen after the state lifted restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Masks, gloves and social distancing guidelines remain and occupancy is generally capped at 50%.

But for businesses allowed to resume in-person operations — outdoor dining, in-store retail, barbershops, hair salons, offices, vehicle sales, leases and rentals and real estate — Wednesday was the next stage in a resumption to normalcy.

Manufacturing, construction and curbside retail trade resumed last month in the first phase of the state's plan.

These are some of the Phase 2 stories from across Long Island. — Robert Brodsky

Salons: 'Regulars are excited to get back'

Natashia Jeré, owner of Jeré Hair Salon in Freeport, working on...

Natashia Jeré, owner of Jeré Hair Salon in Freeport, working on Candance Sawney, her first client on Wednesday.  Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Natashia Jeré, 34, of Hempstead, was greeted by familiar faces at Jeré Hair, her Freeport salon, when she reopened Wednesday.

“It was like best friends starting back where you left off,” she said of greeting “regular” clients she hasn’t seen in about three months. 

“A lot of regulars are excited to get back,” Jeré said, adding that they’re most eager for treatments. “I specialize in natural hair, cut and color. With textured hair, they can do their best at home but professionals have tools and products they can’t have access to.”

Jeré, who operates her salon out of Trimz Barbershop on Guy Lombardo Avenue, spaced out appointments to ease back into things. Safety regulations allowing her to now only work on one client at a time have reduced her daily customers to a total of three — down from seven to 10 — for the time being.

“It does affect our income,” she said. “It is a little uncomfortable, unfortunately, but we’re adjusting to that.” 

Other changes Jeré has enforced at the salon include required face masks, no walk-in appointments, hand sanitizing stations and temperature checks before clients can enter. 

Though she’s hopeful her business will thrive in Phase 2, she’s still concerned about her industry.

“With what’s going on with the pandemic, and the issues we’re having racially right now, it’s a lot to take in,” she said. “As far as being an African American who has worked with major brands … I’ve been passed up for jobs because of being black … it’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Jeré said since the pandemic began, local black business owners have created online panels and held video chats to discuss how to address the concerns they have about the industry.

“With what’s going on racially, we need to show that we are essential. You guys do need to make the playing field even. It’s not easy for us.”  — Meghan Giannotta                

'Like the first day of school'           

Women sit at the sinks at Tapestry Salon & Spa...

Women sit at the sinks at Tapestry Salon & Spa in West Babylon.   Credit: Raychel Brightman

The reopening of Tapestry Salon’s four Long Island shops “felt like the first day of school,” said owner Lou DeRose, 64. “We’ve only been open for two hours and already everyone’s in the groove.” 

Tapestry’s locations in Mount Sinai, West Babylon, Centereach and East Northport have “gotten flooded” with appointment requests from clients seeking color touch-ups and cuts, said DeRose, of Port Jefferson. 

“They’re all excited to be here again,” he said. “We’re coming back with a bang. It’ll be nice to see in a few months from now how long that lasts.” 

Though his salons are busy, only about half the staff is working at each location to ensure social distancing, which also means they’re seeing fewer clients for now.

“The time necessary to spend with each client has gotten longer,” he said. After about an hour with each customer, there’s now an extended time gap for sanitation. There are also new plexiglass shields separating chairs at sinks. Services including waxing and nail treatments are on hold. 

“I know some small, mom-and-pop shops are not reopening. It’s hard for the little guy,” he said. “But our business is pretty resilient. People tend to not neglect getting their hair done.” — Meghan Giannotta                                  

Retail slow to reopen at malls 

Light shopper turnout was evident as some stores remained closed...

Light shopper turnout was evident as some stores remained closed at the Tanger Outlets on Wednesday in Deer Park. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Shopping malls and retail stores across the region operated cautiously Wednesday, with many holding off on reopening during the first day of Phase 2.

At Tanger Outlets in Deer Park, a few shoppers walked outdoors but many of the stores remained closed.

Some stores still had months-old signs on doors with the Adidas outlet indicating it was "temporarily closed" through March 29. Coach, Michael Kors, Nike and UGG were all still boarded up.

Ahmed Zada, 40, of Islip, drove to the outlets with the hope of returning shoes at Nike. He was out of luck.

“The site said they were opening, but I guess not,” Zada said. “I’d rather not have to go through mailing these back.”

Earlier this week, Tanger said some stores would open Wednesday, while others would wait until the weekend or next week.

Among the stores open for business were Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Justice and Finish Line, a sneaker store.

The scene was mirrored at the Lake Success Shopping Center in New Hyde Park, with few retailers open for customers.

In Valley Stream, right on the Queens border, the difference between the Phase 2 storefronts in Nassau and the Phase 1 shops in Rosedale were hard to spot.

Stores inside Green Acres Mall remained shuttered, while major storefronts, including Macy's, Old Navy, Ulta and Century 21, were closed to customers. Burlington and Home Goods, meanwhile, were completely boarded up. 

Those stores that were open appeared to be getting less foot traffic.

While the line for Aldi, the budget grocery store, was dozens of people deep, Sally's Beauty Supply, just a few doors away, hadn't received a single customer in the three hours it had been open, an employee said.

Five Below, opening for the first time Wednesday, only had 10 to 20 customers at midday. — David Reich-Hale and Laura Albanese

The scene in Long Beach

The Long Beach Surf Shop is seen as it reopens...

The Long Beach Surf Shop is seen as it reopens for business on Wednesday. Credit: John Asbury / Newsday

The Bright Eye Beer Co. in Long Beach held its grand opening at the end of February, but the brewery only had a few weekends where customers packed their tap room before they were forced to close.

The brewery, which kept afloat during the pandemic by transitioning to canning its microbrew beer and continuing to fill growlers, expanded Wednesday to five outdoor tables on Park Avenue but still limited seating to about 10 to 15 people.

“It’s something. It’s bringing a little life back to the tap room,” brewery owner Luke Heneghan said.“

The brewery transitioned to manufacturing and distribution but Heneghan said they need to bring customers back to the tap room. They plan to partner with local restaurants and allow customers to bring takeout food outside.

“It’s definitely going to be different with limited capacity,” Heneghan said. “We can’t have people beyond these seats outside. We’re just hanging on. We want customers to bring food from our neighbors to the patio.”

Long Beach is waiving the $50 per seat fees for outdoor dining, but the city is not planning to close any major roads such as Park Avenue or Beech Street.

At Majestic Barber, at the corner of Park and National Boulevard, Nicola Oricchio returned to cutting hair where he has worked for the past 58 years since arriving from Italy. A line of customers waited outside for more than 30 minutes while Oricchio started up his clippers.

“I found out from a friend my barbershop could reopen today,” Oricchio said. “I missed my friends and customers. They’re the best in the world.”

Jonathan Koenig, 41, of Long Beach waited outside with his 12-year-old son Gabriel. 

“It’s been awhile,” Jonathan Koenig said. “It’s definitely needed and I definitely wanted to help a local business. It lets us get to normal. Since this whole pandemic started, everyone’s been going crazy.”

Down the street, the Long Beach Surf Shop reopened its store for the first time after limiting sales to online and curbside orders.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking. We’re not used to being in a group or having people inside this building,” owner Luke Hamlet said.

The Park Avenue shop reopened with signs reading “welcome back” and “masks required.”

Customers flocked to buy surfboards, sandals and wet suits. Hamlet said it’s the longest time they’ve been closed since they first opened 32 years ago.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand and a lot of people haven’t worked or been at home, so they just want to do something,” Hamlet said. “Even after [superstorm] Sandy, we could do something to immediately work to reopen. This was a little more uncertain. — John Asbury

Back in business on Southampton's Main Street 

Outdoor dining at 75 Main in Southampton on Wednesday.

Outdoor dining at 75 Main in Southampton on Wednesday. Credit: Vera Chinese / Newsday

Tables along Southampton’s Main Street were once again filled with customers looking to enjoy an al fresco Hamptons lunch. Upscale boutiques were open, although some offered virtual tours while a handful of storefronts remained empty.

A few boutiques displayed signs supporting Black Lives Matter on a street where, just days earlier, hundreds of protesters lay face down in the road.

Local officials and business people gathered at the 75 Main restaurant for a Champagne toast to celebrate the reopening. Onlookers wore white pants and strappy sandals with one donning a white N95 mask with the Chanel symbol drawn on. 

“I couldn’t find a parking spot and that felt a little bit like things are getting back to normal,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman before raising a Champagne flute in the air.

Zach Erdem, owner of 75 Main, said he had been delivering his own food since the pandemic began and business had taken a hit. On Wednesday, however, he was thrilled to welcome diners back to his establishment.

“Today I became a businessman [again]. I dressed up nice,“ he said. “It’s been really tough for all of us.”

Erdem’s staff wore masks, although diners mostly did not. 

Kristen Jarnagin, president and chief executive of the tourism group Discover Long Island, said local businesses can sign a safety pledge on the organization’s website and download free signage.

“It makes sense to open these businesses as soon as possible,” she said, adding that tourism generates $6.1 billion for the Long Island economy each year. “It’s critical. These businesses are struggling to survive.” — Vera Chinese

'First day of spring'

Ron Klein stood at the front of his store, Denny’s Childrenswear at the Plainview Centre shopping center on South Oyster Bay Road, as about four dozen parents and a few children scoured the racks for summer clothing.

“We’re busier than normal for this time of year, but as far as we’re concerned this is the first day of spring,” Klein said.

Klein said he was pleased with the reopening — the store has been doing curbside business during Phase 1 — but that the past three months have been punishing.

“What we’ve lost we can never make up,” Klein said, adding that he also lost sleep-away camp business. “I have lost my three busiest months of the year.”

Natascha Ruiz, 46, a shop owner from Oyster Bay Cove, walked out with new tie-dye face masks as her 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine, clutched a bag with a new bathing suit, shorts and T-shirts. Ruiz said the store sent out a text to customers in the morning letting people know they were open.

“We’ve been buying everything online,” Ruiz said. “I think she just wanted the feeling of shopping again.”

She added, “It does feel good.”   — Ted Phillips

Beauty in Baldwin

Gabby Alexis, 46, and Eddie Alexis, 47, said Phase 2 couldn’t come soon enough for their business, Gabby Beauty Supply in North Baldwin, which was severely impacted by its mandated closure in mid-March.

“Our sales went down about 80, 90%,” said Gabby Alexis. “It’s been such a tough time.”

Earlier this week, Alexis emailed, called and texted clients to remind them about the shop’s reopening.

“Many of them were excited to come back in, telling me their hair’s a mess, matted or falling out but a lot of them also said they’re still too afraid to venture out,” she said. “They’re scared of a second wave of COVID. They don’t want to expose themselves to getting sick and don’t want to spend their money in case things with the economy don’t shape up soon.”

The married couple, who opened Gabby’s about seven years ago, said another challenge is stocking new products.

“Before suppliers would give you products mostly on credit and you’d pay them later, but now they’re scared too so they’re requiring payment up front,” Gabby Alexis said. “It puts us in a tight spot.”

Ashanta Murray, 34, of Hempstead, was in the store shopping for a wig and hair care products while wearing a colorful mask and orange gloves.

“I was looking forward to today. I come out of my way to shop here even though it’s not close to my home,” she said. “I’m always treated nicely and enjoy all the helpful suggestions from the staff and feel that more than ever, it’s important for me to support black-owned businesses.” — Daysi Calavia-Robertson

Real estate back in business

Ashley Farrell, an associate broker with the Corcoran Group, showed...

Ashley Farrell, an associate broker with the Corcoran Group, showed this home in Remsenburg, listed for $2.425 million, on Wednesday.  Credit: Augusta Gahan

The real estate industry got back in gear Wednesday, with agents and brokers permitted to conduct in-person showings for the first time since March.

Rules are strict. Masks and social distancing of six feet are required, and interactions are limited as much as possible, only including "necessary" workers. For example, sellers must leave a home before prospective buyers go in.

Agents said they are getting plenty of calls from prospective buyers.

"I’m so glad to be back in business," said Margaret Trautmann, an associate broker with Compass in Manhasset. "So many people are out there; they need to find a house; they need to find a place to live, and now we can actually take them out shopping."

Trautmann said she had two showings scheduled Wednesday at a home in Muttontown listed for just under $1.5 million. Buyers are flocking from New York City in search of more home office space and room for their children to run around, she said. 

Trautmann said agents will make sure buyers get prequalified for home loans and are sent virtual tours, as well as requiring signatures on disclosure forms stating they have no known risk factors for coronavirus, before taking them to see a home in person.

She keeps disinfectant spray, wipes, masks, gloves and booties in her car to use at all showings. For each home, she maps out a route through the house that allows everyone to stay six feet away from each other, and wipes down surfaces after each tour.

"I think it makes everyone feel comfortable, knowing that you’re following all the steps" required by the state, she said. 

Ashley Farrell, an associate broker with the Corcoran Group in Westhampton Beach, said she has a busy schedule of showings every day through Tuesday, including a Remsenburg home listed for $2.42 million.

Farell said prospective buyers are coming from Nassau, New York City and Westchester. "There’s a lot of pent-up scheduling," she said. "I think traveling might be put on hold, so where do you go domestically that still feels like a vacation? I think the answer for a lot of people is the Hamptons."

Farrell said she believes showings can be done in a way that keeps buyers and sellers safe. 

"Everyone realizes it’s very serious, we have to wear masks, we have to keep distant," she said.   — Maura McDermott

A move toward normalcy

Customers wait for a haircut at Boris' Barbershop on Main...

Customers wait for a haircut at Boris' Barbershop on Main Street in Sayville on Wednesday. Credit: James Carbone

Main Street in the Great South Bay hamlet of Sayville edged toward normalcy Wednesday, with most shops open and some restaurants offering outdoor dining.

At Butera's, a family-style Italian restaurant, manager Paul Fischer, 59, of Lindenhurst, said he was doing about a quarter of his normal business. He'll be able to accommodate more diners with 16 outdoor tables — 10 more than the restaurant normally offers — but that's still a fraction of the indoor seating capacity lost because of the virus.

And, said Robert Osborn, 60, of North Babylon, one of the owners: "Parties were a significant part of our business," and seating restrictions will make hosting hard. "You can only limp along so long before you start hitting personal accounts and retirement funds." 

Fischer was optimistic, though. "We'll do fine because we have a good product here," he said, adding that customers still want "to sit down and eat again."

Down the road at Out of the Blue, a fashion and jewelry boutique, Gail Moore, 63, of Huntington, said she'd made four sales by midday, with foot traffic about a quarter of normal. Personal touch is her stock in trade, and she expected foot traffic to pick up."

She shared Fischer's faith in the Long Island consumer. "They have been waiting for this," she said. 

Donna Hertig, 46, of Medford, owner of Tiggy Winks, which sells flower girl and Communion dresses, said more customers were visiting Wednesday. But more importantly, orders for August were coming in and she had racks of Communion dresses in the basement that were never picked up because of postponements.

She will alter many of those at her own expense because the girls they're intended for will have outgrown them by the time the ceremonies are held.

"People are still hesitant to come out," she said. Nevertheless, "I think we're OK to ride it out." — Nicholas Spangler

Office work, with a twist

Hand cleaner and face masks at E Central Medical Management...

Hand cleaner and face masks at E Central Medical Management in New Hyde Park on Wednesday.  Credit: Charles Eckert

After operating remotely for months, E Central Medical Management, a New Hyde Park-based medical billing firm, is back in the office.

“There has been the initial excitement of people having not seen each other in a long time,” said Bert Lurch, chief executive of the firm.

The business has 25 employees, but only 11 worked in the office Wednesday. Several signs reminded employees to maintain their distance from others.

After the pandemic began, E Central Medical — deemed an essential business — planned to implement a rotating schedule that would put only a handful of its employees in the office at any time. But as the crisis worsened, the firm decided to go fully remote. Now, the company is back to using its original plan.

Employees are working on-site twice a week on alternating days to reduce the number of workers in the office, Lurch said.

“We don’t necessarily have to have everyone in the office,” he said. “We are able to perform our duties remotely. It’s just that we know that we need to bring people back in so that the things that are potentially slipping don’t happen.”

Although the company made the transition to remote operations easily, he said the lack of face-to-face time meant a drop in collaboration. Additionally, because his staff often deals with sensitive information that needs to be printed, there have been delays in workflow as remote staffers request that on-site managers print documents.

While some employees have expressed concerns over the virus, others “we have to remind to put on their masks when they leave their desk,” Lurch said.   — Victor Ocasio

Reimagining the office

RXR COO Frank Pusinelli, center, and CEO Scott Rechler take...

RXR COO Frank Pusinelli, center, and CEO Scott Rechler take Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on a tour on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

At the massive RXR Plaza in Uniondale, a litany of new health measures were in place for the few who did return to the office Wednesday.

“It was nice to see people again,” said Florence Russo, an accounts payable supervisor with Expeditors International, a tenant of RXR Plaza.

Russo, who has been coming in throughout the crisis, said it’s been a little “dreary and lonely” during the shutdown.

“I said, ‘oh my God, I see people!,’” she said.

RXR Realty, the owner of the property and one of the region’s largest commercial landlords, has implemented a range of new protocols and changes at its signature property, including the use of thermal cameras that read the temperature of visitors from a distance.

If someone has a high temperature, they are asked to have their temperature read with a hand scanner, and if a fever is detected, they are not permitted to enter the premises. Additionally, visitors are expected to wear masks in all common areas on-site.

“I think most people get it,” said Frank Pusinelli, chief operating officer of RXR’s commercial and logistics division. “They know safety is No. 1.”

While many nonessential office-based businesses were permitted to return to work at 50% capacity, Pusinelli said he estimated that roughly 10% to 15% of the building's total tenants — it can hold up to 3,000 individuals — were in the building Wednesday.

He expects many businesses will continue to be cautious going forward and that many more may start to bring employees back on Monday.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran stopped by the Plaza late Wednesday to learn about the changes the office landlord made to combat COVID-19. Everything from limits on the number of elevator occupants to tables filled with spare masks, gloves and hand sanitizer were on display.

“Phase 1 was pretty low risk,” Curran said. “Now, I think we’re ready for Phase 2. People are ready to get back to the office, to get back to work.”

Scott Rechler, chief executive of RXR, said his company had been working for months on ways to “re-imagine the office” and prepare for Wednesday's reopening.

“We literally started this three months ago,” Rechler said. Preparing for Long Island’s reopening has required the real estate giant to “re-imagine everything for this new abnormal.”   — Victor Ocasio

Toasting to the reopening

Patty and Jim Bullis of Manorville sit at an outdoor...

Patty and Jim Bullis of Manorville sit at an outdoor table at McCall Wine in Cutchogue on Wednesday. Credit: Mark Harrington / Newsday

On the first day of Long Island wineries reopening, Patty and Jim Bullis of Manorville sat at an outdoor table at McCall Wine in Cutchogue and were transported.

“It’s wonderful,” Patty Bullis said, overlooking rows of grapevines beside the redwood tasting barn. “Especially here, it’s just so relaxing.”

McCall, like many wineries along the North Fork wine trail, opened to outdoor visitors for the first time Wednesday after three months of lockdown.

Owner Russ McCall says the winery held its own through online sales. General manager Suellen Tunney is keeping social distancing and other safeguards by regulating table size through a new reservation system. Five outdoor tables were full by early afternoon — not bad for a Wednesday. “They were all just so happy,” Tonney said of her customers.

Joel Parisy drove all the way from Forest Hills, Queens, to the North Fork to make the first stop of Long Island wine country at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue. “It’s a place to go and it’s beautiful and the wine tastes good,” he said, explaining the long drive.

He’s a member of Paumanok’s wine club, so he was able to experience the winery’s “soft open” on Wednesday, though it won’t be officially open to the public on a reservation-only basis until this weekend or even a week from Saturday, said Kareem Massoud, winemaker for the family-owned Paumanok.

Not all wineries were open Wednesday, and Long Island Wine Country, the local industry group, recommends checking with individual wineries on its website before venturing out.

Massoud, the president of the group, said there’s considerable work to get done to make sure Paumanok is ready for the first phase of its reopening. He didn’t want to rush it, he said, and he wants to make sure patrons and staff are safe.

Staff are still in the process of printing out and posting required signage advising patrons on safe practices. All seating of six or fewer people will be outdoors, and everyone will have temperatures taken before entering.

“I don’t see a return to normal for another year, maybe even two years,” Massoud said.

Just up the road in Jamesport at Jason’s Vineyard, owned by Pindar Vineyards of Peconic, a crowd of about a dozen patrons sat at tables sipping wine.

Pindar Damianos, wine maker for the family-owned Pindar, said all the company’s tasting rooms are open today, including Duck Walk on the North and South forks, Pindar in Peconic and Pindar in Port Jefferson.

“There’s nothing like foot traffic and nothing like having the tasting room open,” said Damianos, noting Pindar is celebrating 40 years and has introduced two new wines under the Dr. Dan label to commemorate his father, Dr. Herodotus “Dan” Damianos.

At nearby Pugliese Vineyards in Cutchogue, Dominca Pugliese was disinfecting tables at its outdoor seating area, where couples sat at a covered picnic area tasting wine.

“People are very happy to get out,” she said. “They’ve been in isolation for so long.”

— Mark Harrington

Kept alive by takeout

May is usually a big month for Hicksville businesses that cater to weddings and graduations in the South Asian community, but now some say they are just happy to be open again.

A slow stream of customers surveyed the colorful deserts at the Bengali Sweet Shop on South Broadway Wednesday. That makes a big difference in sales, said owner Rajesh Kumar.

“You want to see what you’re going to have because the variety is so large,” Kumar said, sitting at one of the empty tables in the front of the store.

Takeout “kept us alive,” he said, but “I thrive on this business as a sit down business.”

Kumar said he plans to put four two-person tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, which also sells hot vegetarian Indian meals, but the empty wooden tables he has inside are too big.

Business is already picking up as other stores in the area open, bringing more foot and vehicular traffic. Still, a lot of their business is supplying sweets to events and “people are not doing functions right now,” Kumar said.

Next door at Aaina Beauty Salon, the day saw many phone calls from regulars but few customers, according to owner Shamsha Zalia.

“People are calling up; they’re making appointments,” Zalia said. “You can see it’s very quiet,” she said, in an almost empty shop as a single customer walked in for a waxing.

Zalia said the lockdown hit her business during peak season.

“The May month is the busiest of the year for weddings and graduations,” she said.

Sabin Pannu, owner of Chandigarh Fashion at the Delco Plaza shopping center on South Broadway, said “a lot of parties are starting to come back.” The store sells traditional South Asian saris, dresses, shoes, jewelry and menswear worn at weddings, engagement parties and other functions.

“Today we got a lot of calls asking if we were open,” Pannu said.

Big signs outside advertise 50% off. Pannu said the store always has a summer sale but this year “we have a bigger sale because of the pandemic.” — Ted Phillips

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