No one sat at the bar. Waitresses didn’t come around with pints of beer or trays of plated food. To put it mildly, it was “a St. Patrick’s Day like no other,” said Joe Bonin, owner of J. Paul’s Terrace Café in Oceanside, with a hint of sadness and disbelief in his voice.
The restaurant and sports bar, a community hotspot for 38 years, closed to diners the evening before the Irish holiday, along with eateries statewide, under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ban on gatherings of 50 or more people to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The ban closed restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and casinos. Takeout at restaurants and bars, distilleries and wineries is allowed. The state’s liquor law was temporarily changed to allow for off-premises sales of alcohol.
In addition, Cuomo ordered the closure of all barber, nail, hair and tattoo shops by March 20 at 8 p.m.
March 17 was the first day that J. Paul’s opened for takeout orders only with reduced hours — 3 to 8 p.m. About 10 part-time employees, a third of its normal staff, are on duty, Bonin said.
“We open on Christmas and during snowstorms,” Bonin said. “We’re known as the local pub that’s always open, so to be forced to close is really hard for the entire staff and community.”
Businesses throughout Oceanside and Island Park now face uncertain futures because of the coronavirus, said the two Chamber of Commerce presidents.
“It’s going to be a severe impact on business,” said Ed Scharfberg, Oceanside’s chamber president, “and who knows how long it will take to recover.”
The chamber has suspended meetings and other events for now, Scharfberg said, but members are in contact via email. He recommends business owners adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and government officials’ protocols during this time.
Scharfberg noted that Bagel Café, on Long Beach Road, has set its tables and chairs aside and is still operating as usual, preparing food for takeout. Other eateries are offering curbside pickup and deliveries, as well.
Many gyms and fitness studios have resorted to teaching online classes. Brad Lemley, owner of The Art of Self Defense, recorded weeks’ worth of instruction to post online for all to access free of charge.
“We’re all very isolated, so we need to be able to get moving and stay active,” he said. “I hope that this will help people.
“It’s for everyone,” he added. “I have to look past the monetary point of it and say, ‘We’re all in this together,’ and do something right for the community. It may not help the business in the short-term, but long-term, it could.”
Leah Hartofelis, owner of Breathe N Flow Yoga, is approaching her business operations the same way. She has had to cancel thousands of dollars in memberships and is now posting YouTube videos to help the yoga community feel connected.
Asked if she is worried about the business, she responded, “of course.” She has two rents to pay, for the studios in Oceanside and Freeport, with “no income,” she said, noting it is a family business.
“We know the landlords have bills to pay, too, and while they understand that this is a hardship, they aren’t able to waive rent payments,” she said. “That’s stressful because it’s a financial burden.
“As much as we have rent due in just two weeks, with absolutely no income,” she added, “I just don’t feel comfortable asking for money” for the online classes.
In Island Park
Marina Iskiyaeva, owner of NYC Panache Salon, said even before the closures, “everybody canceled” their appointments.
“What are we going to do?” she said, defeated. “If they order us to close, we have to close.”
Iskiyaeva is most concerned about how her workers will pay the rent and stay in business. “I want to know what’s happening with the rent,” she said, noting that while Cuomo has issued mortgage payment freezes, “what about rent and small business?”
Jordan Lobster Farm has shut its dining room, but is still selling everything on its menu, general manager Brian Glennon said. The eatery has not let go of any employees; instead, its wait staff is helping with cashiering, curbside pickup orders and local deliveries. Some are working fewer hours.
It has also reduced prices on lobster, Glennon said. Due to the coronavirus, lobster cannot be exported to China, so sellers have more product on hand and have dropped prices.
“We passed that savings on to the customer,” Glennon said.
Whereas a 1 1/4 pound lobster sold for $15 at the shop two weeks ago, customers can now get it for $10. Jordan Lobster Farm will also cook any meal for free.
However, business has slowed during the usually busy lunch hours, Glennon said. Some is made up by an influx of takeout orders. In these uncertain times, Glennon said he hopes people keep returning to the store.
“As long as we offer help and a fair price to customers, and a lot of people know we’re still operating, I think we’ll be OK,” he said.
While many restaurants are promoting takeout and delivery services through apps like GrubHub, Door Dash and Uber Eats, others have said they do not see the worth in staying open for takeout, such as the Local Ale House on Long Beach Road.
“It’s going to be a very big hit to my employees,” owner Chris Motisi said. “Several people are now out of work, down income and need to pay their rents. They need to provide food on their tables. The bills keep coming.”
Barbra Rubin-Perry, president of the Island Park chamber, said she hopes businesses will receive some financial relief from the government.
“We suffered after Sandy, so we know what’s coming,” she said. “We have businesses that never reopened, and I hope that doesn’t happen now. We are going to need help.”
Perry added that the chamber would do what it could to assist Island Park businesses during this time. She is in contact with local elected leaders and school officials to ensure everyone works together to meet the community’s needs. “We are here to support them,” she said. “I just hope everybody stays well and healthy, and if there is a problem, let us know, and we’ll see what we can do together.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has acknowledged the hard economic times that coronavirus precautions will have on local communities. In response, she convened the Economic Advisory Council, which will be responsible for calculating and reporting revenue losses to the federal government.
“I sympathize with the thousands of Nassau County businesses and employees and the nearly 1.4 million residents of Nassau County who are adversely impacted economically, and I vow to advocate on their behalf,” she said. “Our goal is to advocate for the relief that our families and local economy will need.”