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Franklin Square, Elmont business owners adjust to changes as they begin reopening

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Elmont and Franklin Square business leaders said their downtowns were slowly coming back on May 27, the first day of Long Island’s Phase One reopening of its economy, and they said they hoped people would abide by social-distancing protocols to ensure that the economy stays open.

The first phase allows for construction and wholesale trade companies to restart operations, along with retailers for curbside pickup only. It also allows construction on the Belmont Park redevelopment project to continue. The project includes an 18,000-seat arena for the New York Islanders, a 250-room hotel, a community center and 350,000 square feet of retail space. Construction on the site was suspended in March, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a halt to all “non-essential” construction.

“As Governor Cuomo said this week, New York has clearly transitioned to reopening, and supporting major projects that leave a lasting impact will be critical to building our economy back,” Eric Gertler, acting commissioner of the Empire State Development Corp., said in a statement last week. “The Belmont Redevelopment Project will create tens of thousands of jobs and generate billions in new revenue to support Long Island communities — and as the region enters Phase One, workers were back on site today preparing to resume construction in a safe environment that protects their health.”

But Lisa DelliPizzi, a real estate broker and president of the Franklin Square Chamber of Commerce, said that many local businesses had already reopened in some capacity. Under Cuomo’s executive order, curbside pickup was already allowed as long as orders were made online or over the phone and there was only one employee in the store fulfilling them, according to officials from ESD, the state agency that promotes development.

As a result, stores such as Garden World, in Franklin Square, and Barney’s Hardware, in Elmont, have remained open throughout the pandemic. Garden World, where the parking lot was full on May 27, is considered an essential business because it sells fruit and propane, according to co-owner Seth Fiddle. There are signs posted there reminding people to keep their distance and wear face masks.

Fiddle said the spring rush at the garden store started early this season, in April, due to the shutdown, and there was a “pent up demand for gardening.”

Donald Katz, the owner of Barney’s, said there were “very quiet days” in the beginning, but lately, more people have been willing to go to the store to pick up the items they need. And Mohammed Refran, owner of the Real Discount Outlet, in Elmont, said that continuing to operate has been “very, very tough.” He explained that he has had to learn a new way of doing business, and that it has been difficult to ensure that customers wear masks and maintain six feet of distance among one another. Cuomo has since issued an executive order allowing business owners to refuse service to anyone who isn’t wearing a mask.

“Life is different,” Refran said, “and it’s scary.”

Paul Sapienza, president of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce, said that other business owners were “going to get to learn what their new expectations are” as well, and added that he thought Long Island had met all of the metrics needed to reopen.

To do so, the region needed to have a 14-day decline in hospitalizations, a 1-day decline in deaths, no more than two hospitalizations per 100,000 residents, 30 percent of hospital beds and ICU beds available, increased testing and a fleet of contract tracers. To begin the second phase of the reopening — which would allow professional services, finance and insurance, real estate and leasing businesses to open — the number of deaths, hospitalizations and new Covid-19 cases must remain stable or decline for two weeks.

“As more regions of the state begin reopening,” Cuomo tweeted on May 26, “we are carefully monitoring health data to make sure that everything is going in the right direction. We rely on science and data to guide us — not emotion or politics.”

He added that personal behavior would determine the success — or failure — of the reopening process. “The trajectory,” he said, “is decided by people.”