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In need themselves, Franklin Square and Elmont business owners offer support

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After he saw other pizzerias charge $15 for make-your-own pizza kits, Vito Cortesiano, owner of Salvatore’s of Elmont, decided to give families in need his homemade pizza dough for free while schools remain closed.

“This is a time people have to come together,” Cortesiano said, adding that as a father of two young children, he understands they are cooped up without much to do.

The dough doesn’t cost much to make — it’s just flour and water — and Vito’s wife, Anna, who helps out at the restaurant and works for the Board of Education, said it didn’t make sense for them to charge people for it.

“Why would you charge a family that’s struggling?” she asked. “We just want to help out as much as we could.”

In their first day distributing dough balls on March 18, Anna said the couple gave nearly 80 to families in need. Some, Vito said, came into the Meacham Avenue restaurant with tears in their eyes, and others wanted to give money, but Vito would not accept it.

“We’re doing this from the goodness of our hearts,” Anna said, adding that every business owner should do the same.

A few others in the area have. Inspired by the Cortesianos, Charlie Davi, co-owner of DaVinci Gourmet Market of Franklin Square, gave children free lunches. 

“I saw a lot of people posting on social media that if anyone was worried their children would be missing meals with schools being closed that they would happily help one another out and provide food for others’ children,” Davi recounted. “As a business owner, and growing up in Franklin Square, I just wanted to do my part to help out the community I’ve been a part of all my life.

“I’ve seen other businesses, such as Vito from Salvatore’s, offer help,” he continued, “and thought it would be great if everyone, including local businesses, could help any way we could.”

Chris Cianciulli, owner of the Red Mango in Franklin Square, gave away coffee and offered discounted products to first responders and medical staff who are on the front lines battling the coronavirus outbreak. He has worked in local government for 25 years, he said, and has seen “how hard they work and what they go through.”

But local business owners face difficulties themselves. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered restaurants to close all dining areas and only do takeout or delivery orders. After the announcement, Cianciulli said, his sales dropped 40 percent, and he was concerned he would be unable to pay his sales taxes on March 20, as required.

“It’s going to be a tough few months,” he said.

To help such business owners, Marge Kelly, president of the Community League of Garden City South, posted on social media that March 20 would be “Support Small Business Day” in the Franklin Square School District, when residents were encouraged to order takeout, buy a gift card or shop at area small businesses.

The businesses, Kelly explained, are the same ones that donate to local fundraisers, and “now they’re in need.”

Everyone has seen losses, she said, and many business owners have had to lay off employees. “Unfortunately,” she said, “I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon.”

Several local residents took part in Support Small Business Day, posting photos and writing about the restaurants they ordered from.