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Bellmore, Merrick businesses primed for Phase Three

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Rocky Telese said Elisa’s Ristorante has been something of a chameleon since the coronavirus shutdown began in mid-March. “We’ve been constantly changing for the past three months,” Telese, the owner of the North Bellmore restaurant, said. “Our takeout menu doubled in size, we hosted a couple of drive-in movies, and with Phase 2, we had outdoor seating for the first time in 25 years.”

As Nassau entered Phase 3 of the state’s reopening protocols on Wednesday, Telese said his seating capacity — 89 — could be split in half between indoor and outdoor tables.

Restaurants are permitted to open for indoor dining in the third phase, provided employees and patrons wear masks, and six feet of social distancing is maintained between tables. Spas, nail salons and tattoo parlors are also allowed to reopen.

Restaurants will only be permitted to reopen indoors at 50 percent capacity, according to the governor’s New York Forward website. The maximum number of people per table will be 10. “Outdoor seating has been more popular than we expected,” said Telese, whose brother, Paolo, is the head chef at Elisa’s. “People just want to get out and do things they’re used to doing and enjoy a great meal.”

Rocky is unsure how long the expanded takeout menu will remain in place, since it causes a strain on the kitchen staff, and with outdoor seating in place, there is no longer room for drive-in movies. “Those were more for fun than anything else,” he said.

On its website, the state Department of Health recommends that restaurants offer single-use, disposable menus or display menus in a common place. Elisa’s will have both disposable paper menus and laminated versions, which will be disinfected after each use. “We are the strictest of the strict when it comes to cleanliness,” Telese said.

Until it reopened to customers on June 10 with very limited outdoor seating, The Vine Wine Bar in Merrick offered curbside takeout and local delivery, as well as wine and spirit tutorials on its social media pages.

“From a spacing standpoint, half capacity inside — 25 instead of 50 — will work out just fine,” co-owner Lynn Mione said. “We can continue with the three outdoor tables as well. I think people are looking to enjoy the summer and socialize. We’re the perfect place for a date and for friends to get together.”

Lone Wolf Tattoo, a staple in Bellmore for 25 years, has four separate appointment rooms, which makes social distancing easy to achieve, owner Ronald Bianco said. “We already work in a clean and sterile fashion where everything used on a customer is disposed [of],” Bianco said. “We’ll be doing temperature checks, keeping a log of customers and having employees and customers wear masks.”

While playing catch-up with rescheduling, Bianco said his staff would fit in new appointments as quickly as possible. Customers are asked to call the store to set up a session.

Spas are also able to open at 50 percent capacity with safety protocols, but waiting rooms will remain closed. At Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Bellmore, manager Christine Santelli said its full complement of massages — including hot stone, deep tissue, prenatal and Swedish — will be offered starting June 24. Other services such as facials will not begin until Phase 4.

“We’ve always been very sterile, but we doubled down to be extra safe,” said Santelli, who said masks will be mandatory and gloves made available by request.

Other New York regions entered Phase 3 previously; only Long Island, New York City and Mid-Hudson remain. Cuomo said at his daily briefing June 18 that he was in a “happy-go-lucky mood” because New York had tested 68,000 people overnight and found an average infection rate of .9 percent — the lowest it had been since the pandemic began.

The governor insisted businesses keep up coronavirus safeguards, and issued an executive order giving local authorities the power to immediately shut down businesses that do not maintain safety protocols. Bars and restaurants that do not can lose their liquor licenses.

“Phase 2 was a great foundation for businesses that can open fully in Phase 3,” said Merrick Chamber of Commerce President Femy Aziz. “In my opinion, opening slowly was the right way. Being shut down for three months brought its share of emotional ups and downs, but we’ve come so far, and we don’t want to go backwards.”

Scott Brinton contributed to this story.