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Point Lookout, a ‘summer place,’ worries about the fall and winter

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Point Lookout may be tiny, in geographical terms, covering less than two-tenths of a square mile at the very eastern tip of the Long Beach barrier island, but it seems to have always had a giant sign hanging overhead, proclaiming “Summer.”

The unincorporated hamlet, with a population of 1,219, is all about bicycles and tricycles, swimsuits and sandals and ice cream pop sticks tossed about the sidewalks. It’s about yawning sunrises and orange sunsets.

But in these days of Covid-19 and the shakiest economy in decades, Point Lookout has taken on a different feel. It is now also about anxiety for restaurant owners who have already scaled back and are losing money; concerns about the coming fall, when many summer residents will leave; and quiet, dark thoughts of businesses closing for good and life never being the same again.

“A lot of the businesses have been holding on by a thread,” said Steve Merola, president of the Point Lookout Chamber of Commerce, who was born and raised in the place residents sometimes refer to as PLO. Merola’s parents ran a grocery store in town decades ago, and he remembers playing handball against the store’s wall.

“I always look on the good side,” Merola said. But he acknowledged deep concern, adding, “There’s a bad feeling about winter.”

Despite the yellow, red and blue beach umbrellas and laughing children playing at a day camp at Ted’s Fishing Station off Reynolds Channel, Point Lookout has a somber tone these days.

Laura Shockley, owner of Point Lookout Yoga & Wellness, expanded before the coronavirus pandemic began, adding two more storefronts, the Yoga Store and Joyful Treasures. But these days she is not allowed to conduct indoor classes, and has had to reduce other class sizes. She still offers 1½-hour meditation classes aboard the Freeport Ferry, which docks at Point Lookout, as well as outdoor yoga.

“This has been a struggle,” said Shockley, who gave up a career in corporate law to become a yoga and wellness teacher. She maintains a large following because she treats people in physical and mental distress. “We continue to offer that,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t consider going back to a career in law. “This is what I was meant to do,” she said.

Like many other business people in PLO, Shockley said she has put all she had into her business. “I’m going to make it work,” she said. “My contingency plan is to have faith it all works out.”

Mo Cassara owns two restaurants, the Point Ale House and Mo’nelisa. Cassara coached the men’s basketball team at Hofstra until he was fired in 2013 after the team went 7-25 and six players were arrested for off-the-court incidents. But he rebuilt his life, opening the restaurants and becoming a CBS college basketball analyst. His wife, Elisa Marie DiStefano, is a television journalist.

But the future that once seemed so secure for the couple no longer has the same feel. Cassara hopes to reopen the Ale House, which has been closed for months, but like other restaurant owners, he is unsure how people will feel about dining inside once capacity is increased from the current 50 percent to 100 percent.

Mo’nelisa never closed, and does a brisk takeout business. Once fall comes, however, people are unlikely to want to eat outdoors. And, Cassara said, the basketball season is uncertain this year as the Covid crisis drags on.

“Come January, all three of my jobs may be gone,” Cassara said. But he refuses to live with the idea of defeat. “I have a 3½-year-old and a 1-year-old,” he said. “I have no choice but to keep going. I’m doing this for my family.”

Longtime residents easily recall bright yellow summer days filled with swimming, fishing and boating. Some recall that the actress Marlene Dietrich maintained a summer home in Point Lookout, as did the bodybuilder Charles Atlas and the musician Harry Chapin. Chapin even wrote a few songs about Point Lookout.

Claire Curtin, a poet and a retired public relations executive, came to Point Lookout with her family from their home in Bayside beginning in the late 1950s. It was a quieter town then, with fewer cars, more parking spaces and houses farther apart. But, Curtin said, it has never lost its cohesive feel. Her son, Paul, a guitarist, decided to settle near her.

“It was always a place of warmth,” Curtain said. “If people had a problem, there was a bottle of wine stuck in their door, or a cake. A lot of Broadway people used to come here” for the summer. “Some of the Broadway women would walk around without their tops. My mother used to say, ‘Use your napkin over your eyes,’” she recalled with a laugh as she sat on her front porch.

But for businesses, Curtain said, things have been different. “They’ve been struggling,” she said.

At Ted’s Fishing Station, a popular hangout, there’s a day camp, Camp Curiosity, with 30 children dashing around by the seashore under the watchful eye of owner Karen Brown and her 22-year-old daughter, Mairead. It adds to the cozy atmosphere of Ted’s, said co-owner Ted Wondsel IV. Ted’s Fishing, which has gone by other names over the years, has been around since the 1930s. It’s a place of interlocking pieces. There are four tables on the patio, where there used to be eight before the virus. There are surfboards and rowboats, a room of fishing gear, and there’s takeout food.

Business has been down, Wondsel said. But the Point Lookout community, he said, has pulled together, with one business helping another. Ted’s Fishing, he said, has been selling pizzas made by Mo’nelisa. It has been selling beer from the Bright Eye Beer Co. in Long Beach, instead of buying from large, out-of-town breweries.

But Wondsel’s concern is about the future, even beyond this fall and winter. “What’s life going to be like next year?” he said. “Will the Covid go away? What if it doesn’t?”