Long Island's economy is poised to take its most visible leap yet toward recovery Wednesday as offices, most retailers and hair salons open their doors.
Seventy-nine days after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared the COVID-19 shutdown, Long Islanders will be able to get a professional hair cut, wander into an auto dealership to kick the tires or simply go shopping in Phase 2 of the economy's reopening.
That's not to say the world will resemble the pre-pandemic days. Outdoor dining will be permitted, but waiters will have face masks as will hair stylists, retail clerks and real estate agents, who also are being freed to ply their trade. Crowding remains prohibited, with occupancy generally capped at 50%.
Manufacturing, construction and curbside retail trade resumed last month in the first phase of the state's plan.
After more than 4,000 deaths, steep declines in COVID-19 hospitalizations and other metrics put Long Island on the path to reopen. But some observers caution they see evidence of backsliding, people forgoing face masks and crowding beaches and other venues.
"Social distancing doesn't seem to be visible," warned Herman Berliner, provost and professor of economics at Hofstra University. "People have to realize, you can have another hard stop to the economy. It really could happen again."
Starting Wednesday, real estate agents and brokers on Long Island may resume in-person work, as long as they stay at least 6 feet away from other people or wear masks if they come closer, among other state rules for agents, which you can find at nwsdy.li/agents.
For any work that takes place indoors, the number of people present cannot exceed 50% of the room’s capacity, and only “necessary” staff should be present, under state guidelines. When the shutdown started in March, agents and brokers were classified as nonessential workers. On April 2, the state allowed them to resume work, but only in their offices or online.
Ann Conroy, CEO of Douglas Elliman’s Long Island division, said the brokerage is supplying masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant to its agents, and requiring them to disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops in homes, among other precautions.
In addition, prospective buyers can only come into brokerage offices by appointment, she said. “We’re very, very strict in our analysis of what is expected” by the state, she said. — Maura McDermott
Donaldsons Volkswagen and Subaru in Sayville was among the New York State auto dealerships allowed to begin welcoming customers into showrooms again May 6 – but by appointment only, and sales negotiations with customers had to take place online or by phone.
But Wednesday, the dealership, on Sunrise Highway, will get closer to normalcy because Phase 2 will allow auto dealerships to sell cars face to face from the beginning of the process to the end. But there will be changes in keeping with the state restrictions.
“Phase 2 will allow us to have 50% staff, so we’re having our salespeople at every other desk,” said Steven Fulco, general manager of sales operations at the dealership.
So, there will be two salespeople in each of two new shifts — from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 3 to 8 p.m., he said.
Three cars will be removed from the showroom, leaving two vehicles on the floor to make more room for social distancing, Fulco said. A receptionist will be stationed at a podium at the entrance of the showroom to control occupancy, and arrows will be on the floor directing foot traffic and helping to ensure that the single entrance is used only for entering the building and two exit doors are used only for leaving, Fulco said.
“We’re trying to have people not pass each other in the hall. … It’s going to be difficult to do, but we’re trying to control the flow,” he said.
Although customers will not be required to make appointments anymore, Fulco expects that 75% will continue to do so in the short term
“This is the new normal. I think it’s going to continue,” he said. — Tory N. Parrish
Going back to the office is likely to be a very different experience than what employees are used to, especially for tenants of offices owned by commercial landlord RXR Realty.
“We’ve established a very robust policy that is communicated to all of the tenants,” said Frank Pusinelli, chief operating officer of commercial and logistics at RXR.
The Uniondale-based real estate firm is mandating the use of masks in all its buildings’ common areas, has placed signage reminding employees to socially distance, is limiting the number of people allowed in elevators, has upgraded its air filtration systems, has rolled out an app that has a health questionnaire for employees to fill out, and has temperature-taking stations at the entrance to its properties.
Pusinelli said that while office users are allowed to have up to half of its staff in the building starting Wednesday, many of RXR’s tenants are easing into the reopening.
“Most of the tenants that we’re conversing with, they’re taking a very measured, a slow approach,” he said. While there is a “desire to come back” among tenants, “I don’t think that we’re going to see on Wednesday a 50% return.”
At Canon U.S.A. Inc.’s Melville office, safety measures have been put in place, but 1,500 employees will still be working from home on Wednesday.
CEO Kazuto Ogawa said the 668,296-square-foot building will remain closed for another three weeks or so. “The well-being and safety of our employees is our top priority,” he said. “When we reopen our Melville headquarters office on July 6, it will be far from business as usual.”
The camera and office machine giant put together a team of experts “to monitor the situation closely and plan appropriate steps to help protect our employees,’’ Ogawa said.
The steps include: dividing employees into groups so that no one is sitting in adjacent cubicles; changing traffic flow to maintain social distancing in hallways and entrances; closing conference rooms; having grab-and-go food in the cafeteria; and limiting the number of sinks and stalls for use in bathrooms.
The office has been closed since March 17.
“We’ve developed guidelines for employees and they will be trained on them before they come back,” said Christine C. Sedlacek, who leads Canon’s crisis management efforts. “We keep asking ourselves, ‘How can we make everyone feel safe and comfortable?’ ” — Victor Ocasio and James T. Madore
Royal Cyn Beauty Supply Store in Baldwin wasn’t even open a month before owner Cynthia Williams was forced to close it during the state-mandated business shutdowns over the pandemic.
She’s planning to reopen the Merrick Road store Wednesday or Monday but she is waiting to see if the barbershop beside her business and hair salon across the street will reopen, too, because they helped drive business at her store, she said.
“Being that we were new and lot of people don’t know about us, they helped a lot,” said Williams, who worked in the store with two employees.
The retailer will take steps to support health and safety, such as putting tape on the floor to indicate that customers should stand 6 feet apart at registers and sanitizing countertops and other surfaces often, Williams said.
Williams also is seeking to acquire masks from Nassau County or a municipality to give to customers.
In addition to being new, her business is on a quiet block with just a few stores, so she is unsure of what the future holds.
“But I’m just keeping positive,” she said.
While curbside pickup has been an option for local retailers for weeks, for some, Phase 2 represents the first real step toward normalcy.
“I’ve gotten very minimal business since we reopened,” said Gil Rappold, owner of Brothers Grim Games & Collectibles, a tabletop and board game retailer in Selden. Many of the products his store sells can be found online, making it difficult to lure customers who can’t go inside the 3,500-square-foot store to browse.
“If you can’t browse, why don’t you buy online?” he said.
The retail store and gaming space has seen four to five customers a day with outside pickup, a far cry from 70 to 80 gamers who would show up most Friday nights before the shutdown, Rappold said. “With no in-store gaming, my revenue dropped about 60%,” he said.
Although Wednesday will mark the first time in months he’ll be allowed to have customers roam the store, Rappold said he’s been taking the time during the pause to redesign the store with more art, fresh paint and other small additions.
While he doesn’t expect an immediate rush of business, he thinks more people will be willing to come through the doors once he’s fully open. — Tory N. Parrish and Victor Ocasio
COVID-19 cases are down considerably since the pandemic reached its peak during the first half of April. Some health systems have reported as much as an 85% drop.
For example, Northwell Health said it had 426 hospitalized COVID-19 patients throughout its health system, down 88% from its peak on April 7 and April 8, when it had more than 3,400 patients.
Northwell said it was optimistic that reopening more of Long Island won't lead to a resurgence. "The fact that people are social distancing and that wearing masks are mandatory gives us a high degree of confidence that we should avoid a resurgence," said Terry Lynam, a Northwell spokesman.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has fallen heavily in both counties. Nassau's peak was April 7, when it reported 1,938 positive tests. Suffolk's peak was April 8, when it reported 1,569 positive tests.
Nassau reported 43 new cases, for a total of 40,947 since the start of the pandemic, according to state data released Monday. Suffolk registered 48 new cases, for a total of 40,377. — David Reich-Hale