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Phase 4 reopening begins, but leaves out some Bellmore-Merrick businesses

Gyms, movie theatres omitted from reopening list


Long Island met the criteria to enter Phase 4 of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic reopening plan on July 8, including universities and colleges, but gyms, movie theatres and shopping malls were not included.

Cuomo adjusted the stance on malls and said they could open on July 10, as long as they have enhanced HVAC filtration systems in place. News on whether the state’s 700 public school districts could return to in-person classes is expected to come during the first week of August. Cuomo said that all districts must submit plans for reopening by July 31.

In addition to higher education, industries that opened July 8 included film and music production; low-risk indoor arts and entertainment such as museums, aquariums and historical sites; low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment such as zoos, botanical gardens and nature parks; some youth sports, under strict guidelines, and professional sports, without fans.

“We’ve gone above and beyond [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] safety guidelines to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible,” said Brokerage Comedy Club co-owner James Dolce, noting that the Bellmore venue resumed shows last weekend, with Carie Karavas and Tom Briscoe headlining. “We have HEPA air filters and ultra-violet light sanitizers, and also installed Plexiglas partitioning around the stage and bar areas.”

Dolce said he expects socially distant seating to allow for roughly 65 guests, which is about 33 percent capacity. All menus, plates, glasses and utensils are paper or plastic that will be thrown out after one-time use.

Brokerage employees will not only wear masks, Dolce said, but also replace them hourly. Customers will be required to wear masks upon entering and whenever they are not seated. “We’re expecting a strong turnout,” Dolce said. “I’m sure people are looking forward to having some laughs.”

Henry and Anne Stampfel, owners and operators of Bellmore Movies and Showplace, the last single-screen theater in Nassau County, were disappointed not to be included in Phase 4, and will continue to wait for the green light as the bills continue to roll in.

“We wish there was a date in place when we could open,” Henry said. “Quite honestly, once we’re told we can open, we then have to figure out what we’re going to show, because there will be a shortage of movies. We show a lot of foreign and independent films. Even live theater, you’ve got to schedule shows six weeks out.

“We’re not like gyms or bowling alleys or restaurants where we have everything in place and can open,” Stampfel added. “It’s complicated.”

Closed since March 16, the venue has a seating capacity of 300. Stampfel said it would be fine to operate at 25 percent capacity while meeting social-distancing guidelines. He had the building sanitized by a professional cleaning crew and purchased masks and face shields for employees.

Since gyms were not included in Phase Four, thousands of New York gym owners filed a civil lawsuit against the state demanding to be allowed to reopen. One gym not taking part in the lawsuit is Crunch Fitness in Bellmore. Instead, owner Lew Breslau said he is connected with the New York State Fitness Alliance, which has a lobbyist and law firm working closely with Cuomo’s office in an attempt to come to a reopening agreement.

Crunch has several thousand members and 30,000 square feet of real estate. Breslau said the gym is following strict Covid-19 safety protocols from Crunch’s franchise, which put together a 45-page reopening manual.

“I don’t agree with the decision to keep gyms closed, but I do understand the governor’s concerns,” Breslau said. “Our reopening plan was in place two months ago. We’ve got social-distance decals on the floor about seven to eight feet apart, shut off every other cardio machine at the circuit breaker, implemented tons of cleaning stations and spaced out class times.

“We’re just waiting for the word ‘go,’ and we’re hoping that’s going to happen by the end of the July the latest,” he said.

Spas were one of the businesses permitted to open as part of Phase 3 on June 24 with safety protocols, but without some services such as facials. At Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Bellmore, manager Christine Santelli said she was still awaiting word on whether services can be extended beyond the range of massages offered.

The first few weeks of business exceeded her expectations. “We’ve been very busy, and we’re getting great reviews on Yelp and Facebook,” Santelli said. “The customers are comfortable with everything we’re doing, and they’re rebooking.”

Cuomo noted the infection rate on July 7 was 1.2 percent statewide — down from nearly 17 percent on Long Island and more than 20 percent in New York City at the height of the pandemic in April. More than 57,500 New Yorkers were tested for the coronavirus on July 7, and 692 were positive for the disease.

“The numbers have actually declined since we started reopening” seven weeks ago, Cuomo said.