This story was reported by Tory N. Parrish, Sarina Trangle, Rafer Guzman, Yancey Roy, Robert Brodsky and James T. Madore. It was written by Parrish.
Business owners and local elected officials expressed disappointment and anger Wednesday at news that Long Island's shopping malls, movie theaters and gyms will not be allowed to reopen as expected in Phase 4 of the region's reopening.
The Island, which entered Phase 3 on Wednesday, is expected to enter the final phase of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's reopening plan on July 8.
“We are shocked and disappointed that enclosed shopping malls will not be allowed to re-open in Phase 4," Simon Property Group Inc., the Indianapolis-based owner of Roosevelt Field in Garden City, Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station and Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, said in a statement. "Our communities and the livelihoods of our neighbors depend upon these properties ... and while they remain closed the risk that they do not ever re-open increases.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who had advocated that malls be allowed to reopen under Phase 2 with other retail businesses, said at a press briefing Wednesday, “Our mall operators have very detailed protocols about how they come back. And I’ve seen them, and I am very reassured that we can do it safely.
“It’s thousands upon thousands of jobs,” she added. “They are serious revenue generators for your local government.”
The state’s plan to slow the return of malls, theaters and gyms is taking into account new information that comes out daily about the virus, Cuomo said at a news conference in Manhattan, with the state looking to retain the health gains it has made in the declining number of COVID-19 cases.
“We’re looking at what happened in other states. There are some reports that malls, bars, certain social clubs with air conditioning, that air conditioning may not be cleansing the air of the virus and just recirculating the virus. So, we are studying that and as soon as we get some more information we will make an informed decision,” he said.
The initial Phase 4 opening Cuomo announced Wednesday will include colleges and universities, museums, historic sites, agritourism and similar activities, operating in accordance with social distancing and cleaning protocols.
Other Phase 4 businesses may be divided into subgroups, with the differences between their reopening varying by a couple of weeks or months, sources told Newsday on Tuesday.
Proponents of reopening malls and other businesses soon say operators have the knowledge and capability to put appropriate safety protocols in place for customers and employees.
“Westfield has successfully reopened shopping centers across the U.S. and believes strongly in our ability to work with community leaders to reopen in New York," said a spokesperson for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, the Paris-based owner of Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore and Westfield Sunrise in Massapequa.
At his media briefing Wednesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone argued that both malls and gyms can safely re-open with limited capacity and strict enforcement of facial coverings, sanitation measures and social distancing.
“We expressed that view to the state and they have indicated there will be a willingness moving forward to continually re-evaluate the guidelines to see what else we can get moving,” he said.
Some small retailers take issue with the fact that larger mall stores with their own entrances have been allowed to reopen, while stores on the interior corridors must remain closed.
The difference is perhaps due more to the mindset of shoppers at indoor malls, where people congregate in groups and sit on benches together, and it would be harder for a mall operator to modify that behavior, said Nellie Brown, director of Workplace Health and Safety Programs for the Worker Institute at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
“The very nature of a mall is conducive to [congregating]. That makes it really tough,” she said.
The state’s shifting plans have been frustrating for gym operators. Tristan Phillips, owner of Primal Revival gym in Bohemia, said the 2,500-square-foot business rarely has more than 10 people per class and does not use large equipment. So Phillips does not understand why he's being grouped in with large gyms.
"We're going to be cutting down our class sizes to 5 or 6 people," he added. "It means that we're going to be working harder for less money.”
Not all business owners are taking issue with the delayed reopening.
At the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, co-director Dylan Skolnick said the iconic art-house theater doesn’t expect to resume business until late July or early August, partly because there will be few new movies available until then and partly because of the planning required to establish safety protocols.
“We’re trying to really dot our I’s and cross our T’s,” Skolnick said, “and not just rush into this because we can.”
Manhattan-based Baked by Melissa, which has a cupcake kiosk inside Roosevelt Field, is doing curbside pickup and delivery at the mall, as well as online sales, said Melissa Ben-Ishay, CEO and co-founder.
“I think we’re all trying to do what’s best for our business while keeping people safe. The safety aspect is my topmost priority because you have no opportunity to operate a business without that. I’m thinking long-term here,” she said.