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Freeport reflects on the year-long pandemic

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A year has passed since the Village of Freeport, along with the rest of the world, was slammed by the coronavirus pandemic and forced to deal with the many challenges and changes caused by Covid-19. 

“The past year has proven to be an incredible hardship for the Freeport community,” Mayor Robert Kennedy said. “We have witnessed the failure of businesses, catastrophic number of illnesses, spike in unemployment, tragic loss of lives and stress and anxiety for those employees considered essential while having to work through the pandemic.”   

Freeport was among the hardest-hit communities in Nassau County, with more than 5,400 positive cases confirmed by the county Department of Health as of Monday. 

Despite the struggles, Freeporters have adapted to the “new normal,” and many say they hope to see life improve as the slow winter ends. 

The winter business season was the last for Kevin Calhoun and Richard Duffy, of the Halfway Down restaurant on Woodcleft Avenue, on the Nautical Mile, after they transferred full ownership of the restaurant to their partner, Hugh Carroll. 

Throughout the pandemic, the three men adapted Halfway Down to social distancing and reduced seating, while volunteering to prepare and deliver thousands of meals for first responders. 

Calhoun said the past year was trying for the restaurant, and winter was a struggle, as Nautical Mile eateries saw only a handful of customers a day. “Things have been incredibly quiet on the Nautical Mile,” he said. “A lot of places just shut down because they can’t afford to stay open with all the bills to pay but not enough customers coming in.” 

Although Calhoun will no longer be an owner of Halfway Down, he said he and Duffy will continue to frequent the restaurant, noting the state now allows 75 percent capacity for indoor dining, meaning the restaurant can seat 56 people inside and 40 more outside. 

Barbershops and salons were also severely impacted by the pandemic, as they were forced to shut down for about three months last year. 

Leon Broughton, owner of Trimz Barbershop, shared his story recently during a virtual seminar with State Sen. John Brooks on how the pandemic changed his business. 

Broughton recalled the early days of the shutdown as a time of severe anxiety, when he did chores around the house to take his mind off the crisis. 

While he became uneasy over the bills that piled up when his business was closed, he wanted to focus on keeping the barbershop running and in full compliance with the state’s mandates when he was allowed to reopen in June.  

“I came up with ideas for the business and looked at what others were doing to adapt to things,” Broughton said. 

Trimz now takes the temperature of all clients, distributes hand sanitizers and wipes down all chairs and equipment. Clients must also wear their masks when having their hair cut. 

Broughton also applied for government loans to ease overhead costs and buy personal protective equipment. 

Jenny Jorge, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said Covid-19 loans from the Small Business Administration provided funds for many local businesses to stay afloat. The chamber advertised the loans throughout the pandemic in its newsletters and at monthly luncheons in the summer and fall.    

Jorge, who is vice president of operations for Gala Foods Supermarkets, said she and others at the supermarket have learned a great deal from the pandemic. Because of restrictions placed on the store’s capacity, Gala Foods ramped up its website so customers could shop online for pick-up or delivery. 

While Covid-19 positive cases have decreased in the past month, online shopping has continued. “Everyone really stepped up to help and a lot of great things came from these changes,” Jorge said.   

Police Chief Mike Smith also commented on the changes that the Police Department has seen in the past year. 

The department now has a buzzer at its front door to let in only two people at a time, and there is Plexiglas on the doors and desks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. And officers are assigned to staggered tours to avoid overcrowding in the locker rooms and at desks. 

Throughout the year, 30 officers contracted Covid-19 — about a third of the department — but all recovered and returned to work. 

“It was definitely tough, and there were a lot of concerns and unknowns in the beginning, but this is the job we signed up to do,” Smith said. 

Although enforcing social distancing and mask wearing was new to the department, Smith said officers usually found residents policing one another. 

Freeport had four reported cases of businesses breaking Covid-19 restrictions last year. 

While the pandemic continues, Kennedy and other community leaders hope the seasonal bustle of spring and summer will help the village and the South Shore recover.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that Freeport will begin to return to normalcy in mid-summer and that most residents will have received the vaccine,” Kennedy said. 

Village Hall will continue to provide personal protective equipment to residents and businesses in need. To request PPE or to contact the mayor’s office, call (516) 377-2252.