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‘Nonessential’ businesses close on Cuomo's order

Many continued with strong sales up to deadline

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All businesses in Seaford and Wantagh considered nonessential were shuttered beginning Sunday night, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a directive via Twitter last Friday ordering the closures. 

The directive included many service and retail businesses, including barber shops, nail and hair salons and tattoo parlors — businesses that depend on face-to-face service.

“These temporary closures are not going to be easy, but they are necessary to protect the public health,” Cuomo wrote.

Salons and barbershops in Wantagh and Seaford had mixed responses to the order. “It’s sad, because our industry only makes money if we work,” said Tina Scarpantonio, owner of Salon Scarpello in Wantagh. “We don’t get paid if we don’t work, leaving us in a very bad situation.” She added that she was the only one working at the salon, and she would be going “down with the ship” when it closed. “Until further notice is all I know,” Scarpantonio said.

Stephanie Schwartz, owner of Studio Seven Hair Salon in Wantagh, had a different perspective. “I’m actually relieved, to be honest,” she said. “I think that we’re in very close contact with people, and we take a huge risk. It was a big decision to close or not, and I’m a bit relieved he made that decision.”

Schwartz added that the pandemic forced her to worry about the health of her family, her customers and herself.

Man to Man Barber Shop in Seaford closed on Friday, two days before the directive took effect, “just to be safer” according to its owner, who asked not to be named. He added that he was not happy about being forced to close.

“What we do next will have a massive impact on the trajectory of this virus in New York,” Cuomo wore earlier last week. “We can only maintain public health by staying apart. The decision each of us makes now will impact us all tomorrow. Stay home.”

Other businesses adapted to the changing situation in a variety of ways. “We began preparing for something like this a few weeks ago,” said Tony Smith, who owns SAS Realty in Wantagh. He was unsure whether his brokers would be allowed to continue showing homes in person, but, he said, “we’ve only been showing empty houses, not those that are still occupied.” In those cases, he explained, “We’ve been using virtual tours to show the houses.” He said he believed his brokers would be able to continue that practice.

Despite the hike in mortgage rates last week by Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, “the market is still firm,” Smith said. “Even with the increase, interest rates are still really low” — currently between 3.5 and 4 percent.

“I showed a woman a house [on March 14], and she bought it on the spot,” he added.

For businesses considered essential, the picture was quite different. Mid Island Medical Supplies owner Chris Brown said he could hardly keep supplies in stock. “I got 100 digital thermometers [last Thursday], and they were all gone in an hour,” Brown said.

Surgical masks were reserved for those specified by the state Department of Health — mainly first responders, health care workers and those diagnosed as positive for the coronavirus. But despite orders from state and local officials threatening action against price gougers, prices for boxes of 50 masks — normally $15.95 — ranged from $49.95 to $500, Brown said.

“A lot of manufacturers are still keeping the prices low but overcharging for shipping and handling,” he said.

“People are scared of the unknown,” Brown added. “We see the headlines with every death; it’s blown out of proportion. Where were they during flu season?”

This year’s flu season has been particularly harsh, with more than 29 million cases nationally and about 16,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“I’m an optimist — I think we’re going to see some good things come out of this,” Smith said. “I think we’re going to see new business models, different ways of doing things. We’ve been doing things pretty much the same way for a long, long time.”

For example, he said, more businesses would likely convert to online models rather than continuing as bricks-and-mortar businesses. “A lot of people are running businesses right out of their homes,” he said.

Meanwhile, hoarding continued to be evident, with rationing in effect in some supermarkets. King Kullen placed a two-per-customer limit on all “like items” in the store, even including such goods as cat food.

Other businesses were busy right up to the deadline. T&T Gunnery, in Seaford, had lines out the door as late as 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, as gun sales throughout the county and state soared.

J.D. Freda contributed to this story.