As Covid-19 rates tick upward in New York and across the country, Long Island’s restaurants and gyms are bearing the brunt of a new restriction by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
On Nov. 12, Cuomo announced that gyms and restaurants or bars with a state liquor license throughout New York must close by 10 p.m. The locations, he said, have been identified as potential areas of concern where the virus might spread.
Nassau County reported a 3.4 percent positivity rate on Monday, with 133 Covid-19 hospitalizations, including 24 patients in intensive care units and 12 who were intubated — the highest numbers since late May.
Despite the increase, County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement that she believes the county can avoid a complete shutdown this winter.
“Let’s do our part,” Curran said. “Let’s continue to wear our masks, wash hands, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings to save lives, keep kids in school and ensure businesses can stay open.”
Some businesses in Bellmore and Merrick, such as Crunch Fitness in Bellmore, will not be too heavily affected by the curfew, which also includes a 5 a.m. opening restriction. Crunch usually opens at 4 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m., and those two extra hours do not typically see many guests, owner Lew Breslau said.
Breslau did, however, question the logic of Cuomo’s decision. “I’m not sure where the benefit comes in at closing at that time,” he said. “I’m not sure how it has any benefit at all for the health of the residents of New York.”
The shorter hours, he added, could lead to more people in the gym at any given time.
Restaurants that rely on late-night customers stand to be hit harder. Maria Pallotta, owner of American Beauty Bar and Grill in Bellmore, said she had just started to hold restricted late-night events again. The 10 p.m. closing time will “hurt us immensely,” she said.
“Everything we’ve built the past six years, it feels like it’s being taken away,” Pallotta said. “We’re terrified — it hurts us to stop at 10.”
“I don’t know how many more hits the industry can take,” said John Amaruso, owner of Bourbon & Brews, in Merrick. His bar sees most of its clientele from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. — “most of our revenue gone with the snap of a finger,” he said.
Amaruso expressed concern for his employees, who have now had their hours, and thus paychecks and tips, cut in half. The state’s new restriction is “overkill” and “disheartening,” Amaruso said, especially since many restaurants have closely followed coronavirus safety mandates in recent months.
“With everything as hard as it is, and everything starting to feel like it was back to normal, now it’s another hit,” Amaruso said. “We’ve made it through the worst of this, and we’ll make it through the worst of it again.”
Lynn Mione, who owns the Vine Wine Bar, in Merrick, said that roughly 10 percent of her nightly business could be affected by Cuomo’s curfew. She said she would consider changing her opening time of 5 p.m. if the impact proves to be significant.
“I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what a 10 p.m. closure will do for the infection rate,” she said. “People ask me, and I struggle to come up with an answer for them.”
Her employees, who are now also facing reduced hours and pay, “deserve an intelligent answer,” she said. “I don’t know how it truly affects the safety of our community — it seems arbitrary.”
Thanksgiving, Mione added, is one of the most popular nights of the year for her bar, but this year, she might take a loss. “I’m very concerned that without being able to accept guests and capitalize on the season, it will affect the entire year in a negative way,” she said.
“These are unprecedented times, and decisions are being made for the first time without knowing whether it really works or not,” said Femy Aziz, president of the Merrick Chamber of Commerce. “I do feel that the governor has everyone’s best interests at heart.”
“Is everyone going to be happy?” Aziz added. “No, but it’s in order to prevent another shutdown. We have to look at it that way . . . It’s almost like an experiment.”
Her business, Serengeti Design Studios in Merrick, has operated by appointment only amid the pandemic, a level of freedom and control that Aziz enjoys, she said.
She encouraged residents to continue to shop locally. The chamber has brought in several new members in recent weeks, and ribbon-cutting ceremonies will be held for new businesses in the community.
“When decisions are being made that affect so many people, there’s no way to make a decision that will satisfy everybody,” Aziz said.
“By the end, I might wonder if we’re worse off having done this,” Mione said.