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Businesses working to get over the COVID-19 bump

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This time of the year is a busy one for stores as shoppers prepare for holidays such as Passover and Easter. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and governmental orders to close all but “essential” businesses and services, that shopping has ground to a halt.

Five Towns businesses are adjusting to the mandate. Morton’s Army Navy Store, on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, had to temporarily close, and its owner, Steve Silverman, said that business had been slow for two or three weeks before that. “Some days we would have three customers in a day, and other days there would be no customers coming in,” he said. “There has been no significant revenue for us in the past month.”

Silverman added that before the store closed, he allowed just one customer in the store at a time. “We need to take all the necessary precautions at this time,” he said. “We all have to get used to what the new normal is.”

The Under 5-10 clothing store in Cedarhurst has an online-first approach to its business. Nonetheless, CEO Elie Robinson said he wasn’t sure about business activity going forward. “Our online business has been great in the past week,” he said. “But I’m worried that if this continues, with some people inevitably getting laid off from their jobs, they’re not going to want to shop at all.”

Robinson added that the unknown future of the pandemic worries him. “We can’t project the future right now, since news is changing by the hour,” he said. “If the whole country were to shut down for 30 days, at least I would know the next month would be terrible, and after those 30 days we would ramp back up to normal.”

Jamal and Julie Ahmad, who own Dolce Confections, a sweet shop in Hewlett, said they were adjusting to the closing by delivering goods to customers. “Dolce will still take orders on our website, and continue to take orders over the phone,” Jamal said. “We’ll also offer free deliveries to those living in the Five Towns and Valley Stream.”

Nick Scarella, who has owned Da Nicola’s Italian restaurant, in Hewlett, for over a decade. He said he was staying open for takeout orders. “We’ve declined a little bit in revenue, but our takeout service has soared,” Scarella said. “I find that using social media helps let people know that we’re still open for business.”

Working is Scarella’s escape from the pandemic’s bad news. “When I’m working in the kitchen with the five guys that have been with me since Day One, everything feels the same,” he said. “Except at 4 p.m., when there are no servers or bartenders coming in and I see a dark dining room.”

Scarella added that working in the kitchen was like “home” for him. “I’m trying not to watch too much news, so I run to the kitchen at this point,” he said. “Hearing the rattling of pans, the clanking of metal and joking with the guys has kept me positive throughout this pandemic.”

Small businesses in the state may be eligible for some relief, as the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans to small businesses. Jovita Carranza, the SBA’s head administrator, stated in a March 16 news release that small businesses that have been financially impacted since Jan. 31 may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses.

“The SBA is strongly committed to providing the most effective and customer-focused response possible to assist New York small businesses with federal disaster loans,” Carranza stated in the release. “We will be swift in our efforts to help these small businesses recover from the financial impacts of the coronavirus.”

Despite the likely financial setback, Scarella remains positive about the future. “The Five Towns area has been through so much with 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and now the coronavirus,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to get through this. We’ve been tested so many times, and this is just a bump in the road.”