Long Beach businesses ponder options for reopening


When the City of Long Beach finally reopens, it will look pretty much the same, but it won’t feel that way.

The Chamber of Commerce held a Zoom meeting Tuesday night, in which it announced the results of a recent survey of small businesses: what they believe would be the best way for the city to reopen, and how they will conduct businesses when it does.

Customers may be required to wear masks for a long time; social distancing may be routine well into the future; grab-and-go will continue at a number of establishments; bars where people like to socialize may be forced to allow only a certain number of patrons inside; sanitizers may be everywhere; food servers may wear gloves; plastic throw-away menus might become standard; and workers will no doubt be required to wash their hands many times a day.

“When this pandemic first happened and we started to lock down, we talked to restaurants,” said Ian Danby, the chamber’s chairman, who hosted the Zoom meeting. He noted that the chamber had come up with the idea of placing grab-and-go signs outside some restaurants to help them by speeding up customer traffic, and that there had been other meetings with business owners over the past few weeks.

Interim City Manager Donna Gayden’s executive assistant, John McNally, who also took part in the Zoom session, said the city was formulating plans to re-open. City officials, McNally said, have been talking to State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice about those plans. The opening, he said, would take place in phases, with essential businesses opening first.

“There are a lot of knownunknowns,” McNally said.

Chamber board member Gretchen Grotenhaler presented some of the survey’s findings. “Many of the businesses have had to close completely,” she said. “Many are planning reopenings, and want to follow the guidelines” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are about 800 businesses in Long Beach, according to the chamber. These days, city streets are practically empty, and “Sorry closed” signs hang on many doors.

Normally at this time of year, restaurants, bars and surf shops are gearing up for the summer season. The boardwalk has remained closed since the end of March — when, city officials said, people continued to congregate there despite requests by police that they socially distance — and it is uncertain when, or if, the beach will open. Asked about that, McNally said the decision would be made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Grotenhaler said that business people want social distancing to continue, and they want their customers to use hand sanitizers. Some told the chamber that stores should limit the number of customers allowed in. Beauty salon owners, she said, suggested using every other chair, and a dance school said it would put grids on the floor to show students where they should stand.

Others, Grotenhaler said, talked about whether they could take customers’ temperatures before they entered. In addition to the continued use of masks, businesses also mentioned accepting most payments online to avoid handling cash or credit cards. Some even proposed discussing personal health issues with customers to determine whether they were affected by the coronavirus.

Many business owners, she said, want more opportunities to exchange ideas with one another in the interest of remaining safe.

Grotenhaler said there were discussions about setting up pop-up tents on the boardwalk when it opens again. She added that there was also talk about organizing a local business expo to mark the city’s reopening. “We want to help the city come back,” she said.

Chamber Secretary Brian Berkery said that another survey was being sent out, and that businesses were being asked to create videos of their stores and offices, which could be compiled on the chamber’s website.

Vice President Leah Tozer echoed the anxiety of many in the city. “Everybody is asking when we can reopen,” she said. “We tell people, just try and follow the CDC guidelines. That’s all we can do right now.”