Spending money and being reimbursed for half of it is a rare opportunity, but it will become a reality next week in the hamlet. Places of business that belong to the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce, and there are roughly 200, will take part in the Share the Bill program from Feb. 22 to 28.
When you make a purchase from a member, you can email a photo or a scan of the receipt, including the vendor, date and amount, as well as your full name and PayPal email address, to firstname.lastname@example.org. You will be reimbursed for half the price, up to $30.
Ryan Schlotter, the chamber’s president and a co-owner of Oyster Bay Brewing, said that Farmingdale’s chamber offered a similar program last summer, and it proved popular. “We hope to drag as many people out to spend money in places that support the chamber,” Schlotter said. “When Rob Brusca brought this up months ago, we looked at the calendar and tried to choose a week where we traditionally are slow, when nothing is going on. Rob was an absolute machine working on this.”
Brusca, a lifelong Oyster Bay resident, said he is committed to the community because it is the right thing to do. “Someone needs help, you try to help,” he said. “It’s what our parents taught us, what we all experienced growing up here and what I know will continue to be reflected in all the great people of Oyster Bay and East Norwich.”
Rustan Lundstrum, owner of Coach Grill and Tavern believes the program will help small businesses, including his own. People want to support their local businesses, he said, and this will incentivize them further.
“Everyone is looking for a deal,” he said. “This is a great one that helps everyone.”
Lundstrum said his restaurant has been surviving the pandemic this winter by offering igloos outside for a private dining experience, as well as dining indoors and on the patio that has firepits to keep customers warm. “The igloos are booked solid and on the weekends I almost fill to capacity indoors,” he said. “But people can always get takeout here and do.”
The pandemic has caused some small businesses to close in the hamlet, making the program all the more important. The chamber is supporting the initiative by using $5,000 of its own money and another $1,000 that was donated. Each business has its own following, Schlotter said, and he is sure they will return once they feel safe again, but small businesses need them now.
“We want everyone to be safe for sure,” he said. “They can get takeout. I’m a business owner and president of the chamber and I hear stories from all over. It’s a nightmare. We are all having the same struggle.”
Lifelong Oyster Bay resident Nat Kingsley owns All Pro Athletics. He is hoping sports will be played in the spring but in the meantime he struggles. His store, which opened in 2018, offers athletic apparel as well as Oyster Bay-centric items. When the pandemic hit, he had masks designed by Flow Society, a children’s clothing company, that are the colors of the school district in what he described as the “crazy pattern” for shorts that is popular with children in the hamlet.
“I’m trying to figure out if retail will ever come back. We have a lot of great inventory,” he said. “The chamber and the Main Street Association offer so much support. I’m hopeful things will turn around.”
Damien Carlino owns Café Al Dente. He believes that Share the Bill will definitely bring in customers to his establishment. His business, he said, was doing well until the end of November when cases of Covid went up. Indoor dining began to pick up in mid-January, but Carlino said it has been spotty ever since. “The amount of customers I get goes with the news on Covid,” he said. “Today we were packed and I almost hit my capacity. Some others in town have not been so fortunate.”
He appreciates the help from the chamber, which has included heaters for outdoor dining. Every little bit helps, he said.
Kingsley also said that the chamber has been helpful as has the Oyster Bay Main Street Association. “People like Rob Brusca help without receiving any personal gain,” he said. “He and the chamber and Main Street Association do what they do because they love the community. I hope people turn out next week.”