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Long Beach looks, cautiously, to Phase 2 reopening

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At JJ Coopers, co-manager Matthew Vascellaro has been preparing for weeks to help the posh American-style restaurant climb out of the doldrums brought on by the coronavirus epidemic. This is the week he has been waiting for, when restaurants can serve patrons out-of-doors.

"I can't wait," Vascellaro said. "It's been such a long, devastating process. We had to stay afloat" by offering takeout. "But we also had a strong, dedicated staff."

JJ Coopers is able to serve about 50 patrons on a patio in the back, but like all other restaurants, the diner must be kept 6 feet apart.

JJ Coopers is one of dozens of restaurants in Long Beach that will begin outdoor service this week, under Phase 2 of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's re-opening plan. Hair salons and barbershops may also reopen, and retail stores can offer customers in-store service. But strong regulations will be in effect.

Businesses will only be permitted to reach 50 percent occupancy, social distancing will be required, and masks must be worn by employees.

The phase 2 re-opening also includes such office-based jobs as real estate, professional services, administrative support and information technology.

John McNally, executive assistant to the Long Beach City Manager said that the city has waived a $25 fee it had charged restaurants for outdoor seating. He said the city is also "working through" plans to allow restaurants to use their parking lots for dining.

Long Beach's economy, which is made up of a significant number of restaurants and bars, has taken a major hit because of the coronavirus pandemic. The shutdown has caused massive layoffs and loss of income for store owners. Unemployment in the city ticked up because of pandemic closings.,

Ian Danby, chairman of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, has worked to help restaurants attract customers. The chamber provided signs where motorists could stop to pick-up food, and took surveys to see what businesses thought would help them most.

"I expect that any restaurant still in business today will do anything they can to open their doors" to outdoor dining, Danby said. "This is a good step," Danby said. "It's an excellent step."

It is a big one for Long Beach. Phase 1 involved the re-opening of construction firms and manufacturers - not major employers on the barrier beach.

"We're back, we're back," said Gov. Cuomo at his coronavirus briefing Monday. "Not only are we back, but we went from the worst situation in the nation, frankly, one of the worst situations on the lobe, to not only flattening the curve but to bending the curve."

Giano Acquasanta, an employee at Sorrentino's on West Park Avenue, is also looking forward to outdoor service, but said dining will be limited to four tables that can each seat two people.

The Lido Kosher Deli, which does a steady counter business, will be setting up two picnic tables outdoors, said owner Wally Goetz. There will be no waiter service.

Goetz said it will take time to see whether people feel comfortable coming back to restaurants. "We will have to wait and see," Goetz said. "We will take every day as it comes."