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East Meadow business owners ring in Phase 3

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As East Meadow was set to enter Phase 3 of New York state’s reopening protocols on Wednesday, many business owners were looking forward to allowing guests into their establishments for the first time since March. 

Stew Leonard Jr., chief executive officer of the superstore Stew Leonard’s, created a video in which he gave advice on reopening to local business owners.

Although the East Meadow store remained open throughout the pandemic, Leonard said he felt as if he had to reopen “about a dozen times” because of ongoing adjustments and government guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“You have to convince your customers that it’s the cleanest place they can be every day,” he said, adding that business owners should clean not only overnight, but during the day as well so customers see it and feel more comfortable.

Restaurants, salons, spas and other personal services were permitted to reopen indoor areas at 50 percent capacity starting Wednesday, according to the governor’s New York Forward website. The maximum number of people per restaurant table is 10.

On its website, the state Department of Health recommends that restaurants provide single-use, disposable menus or display menus in a common area.

For Frank Borrelli, the owner of Borrelli’s Italian Restaurant in East Meadow, entering Phase 3 meant he could open the restaurant’s dining area again, seating 40 people in its back room and 40 in its main room. Typically, Borrelli’s can accommodate 180 diners. With an additional 40 seats in its new outdoor dining area, the restaurant can now operating at two-thirds capacity.

The outdoor dining area is sectioned off with a wooden fence, decorated with palm trees, and, three nights a week, features live music. “It definitely doesn’t feel like you’re sitting in a parking lot in East Meadow,” Borrelli said with a laugh.

He has kept the same menu throughout the pandemic, and added a special takeout option for families of four that was popular on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

“We’ve taken a hit shutting down for three months,” Borrelli said. “Takeout was good, but it’s not enough to cover our overhead costs. Hopefully, by Phase 4, we’ll be able to get back to some form of normal here.”

The Broadway-inspired Grand Stage Diner opened under new ownership in February 2019, and has since become a staple of the community. It reopened two weeks ago with a new outdoor dining section on the east side of the restaurant. Asked what went into reopening, owner Tom Argyris laughed, “A lot of sweats.”

Argyris and his sons George and Nick, who co-own the diner, are active in the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce, which has helped its members stock up on the necessary supplies to keep employees and patrons safe, including facemasks, gloves, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. The “reopening kits” were one of many ideas generated by a chamber committee dedicated to post-pandemic efforts, comprising co-chairs Ted Rosenthal, founder of the law firm Rosenthal, Curry & Kranz, and Jim Skinner, owner of A&C Pest Management, as well as Skinner’s son James, also of A&C, and Richie Krug Jr. and Tom and Lyndsey Gallagher, all of Century 21 American Homes.

To encourage residents to patronize chamber businesses, the organization also plans to give out a total of $5,000 in cash rewards. Anyone who patronizes member businesses will receive five points for every $20 they spend, and the points can be redeemed for a chance to win up to $600.

For Garden Social, in East Meadow, Phase 3 meant rehiring 50 staff members. In a video shared on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Bob Russo, one of its owners, welcomed guests back. “I know a lot of you have been sitting at home probably laying in your underwear on your couches, eating Cheetos,” Russo said, “and you’re craving that French dip and that giant pretzel, so we’re gonna make that happen.”

Other regions of the state had already entered Phase 3. Only Long Island, New York City and the Mid-Hudson region had not. Gov Andrew Cuomo said at his next-to-last daily briefing on June 18 that he was in a “happy-go-lucky mood” because New York had tested 68,000 people overnight and found an average infection rate of .9 percent, the lowest it had been since the pandemic began.

Cuomo insisted that businesses maintain the coronavirus protocols, and issued an executive order giving local authorities the power to shut down businesses that do not. Bars and restaurants that do not can lose their liquor licenses.

Tony Bellissimo contributed to this story.