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From curbside pickup to home delivery, small firms adapting to survive

Book Revue, an indpendent bookstore in Huntington, has

Book Revue, an indpendent bookstore in Huntington, has adopted new business practices due to the mandated physical distancing measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

From curbside pickup and free shipping to asking customers to buy gift certificates for future purchases, small businesses on Long Island have gotten creative to survive the economic downturn sparked by the coronavirus.

Business owners said this week they are worried about paying rent, employee salaries, utility bills and other costs to keep operating. Some have laid off employees or reduced their work schedules after governments declared a state of emergency to keep people at home.

There's been uncertainty and confusion about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's multiple orders restricting the number of employees who can work at a given time and what types of businesses can remain open because they provide products and services deemed essential.   

In a directive issued Friday, Cuomo said "all nonessential businesses statewide must close in-office personnel functions" effective at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

“Small businesses are worried, but they have no choice but to remain positive and come up with alternative ways to serve their customers,” said Robert G. Fonti, a property manager and co-chairman of the Long Island Business Council, which lobbies government on behalf of entrepreneurs. “Small businesses are doing promotions, discounts, curbside pickup — whatever it takes to survive. Many are on vapors right now and may not make it.”

Sales have fallen more than 50% at small businesses in the mid-Atlantic states because of the coronavirus, according to a poll of 225 businesses, mostly in New York State and Pennsylvania. The poll was conducted March 11-13 by the advocacy group National Small Business Association.

Here are some ways that entrepreneurs in Nassau and Suffolk counties are making do:

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Vastra Boutique, Hicksville

Poonam Jain is counting on gift certificates to help pay the May rent on her 23-year-old store, which closed to foot traffic this week.

In a Facebook post, Jain asked customers of her handmade dresses for weddings, Sweet 16 parties and other special occasions to consider buying a gift certificate for a future purchase. She said she has no new orders because events were canceled due to the coronavirus.

Customers are responding to the plea for help, said her daughter, Ena.

“We’ve been so overwhelmed by the love and support given to us…Any money will go toward rent,” she said. “The gift certificate isn’t a donation. It will be used toward an order for a dress or to rent one.”

Vastra Boutique will apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The retailer already shut down its dressmaking factory in New Delhi, India and laid off 15 employees there because of the dearth of orders.

Ena Jain, who has a travel business, said her mother may revert to operating the boutique out of the family home and travel to customers for dress fittings and consultations.

Pindar Vineyards, Peconic

The North Fork winery is offering free shipping on orders of six bottles or more to New York State, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. That’s a savings of $20 to $30 per case and the orders can be mix or match, said owner Pindar Damianos.

Pindar Vineyards is making free deliveries to customers from Riverhead to Orient. There also is curbside pickup at the winery and its store in Port Jefferson, as well as at the sister Duck Walk Vineyards in Water Mill and Southold and Jason’s Vineyard in Jamesport.

“We want to keep the lights on and keep our employees working,” said Damianos; the company has 60 workers among its locations. He said they are taking orders online and over the telephone.

With in-person wine tastings stopped, Damianos is considering virtual tasting events where wines are shipped to the customer and on a set date they sample them at home with the winemaker joining via livestream.

Damianos’ new marketing pitch appeals to local pride: “The wineries out here play a big role in the tourism economy. The most important thing people can do right now is grab a local wine when you go to the wine store."

Book Revue, Huntington village

“We’ve been here 42 years and we’re not going to let something like a virus stop us,” said Richard Klein, who together with his brother, Robert, started the independent bookstore in 1977.

Forced to close to foot traffic this week, Book Revue is offering same-day delivery in Huntington, Cold Spring Harbor and Centerport on orders of in-stock merchandise received by 6:30 p.m. There’s a $3 fee to cover the cost of gasoline for the delivery person, which often is Robert Klein.

Book Revue has begun taking orders via its website and will offer virtual browsing. It also is selling six-book bundles on themes such as dinosaurs and unicorns for kids, and self-care regimens for adults. 

Customers also can telephone with requests and salespeople will call back with recommendations, according to general manager Julie Wernersbach.

The coronavirus “caused us to speed up our plans to sell online, to deliver to homes, to do curbside pickup,” said Richard Klein. “We will continue these services after this is over and add more.”

Book Revue laid off about eight people when foot traffic was suspended but 15 to 18 remain on the payroll, excluding a wholesale business. “We’re hoping that everything we’re doing will allow us to hire people back,” he said.

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