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Seaford's women in business reflect on adapting to the pandemic

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It’s been a year since businesses were forced to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, and many Seaford residents have grown accustomed to frequenting local businesses and taking the necessary steps to keep one another safe. Whether it’s a yoga studio offering free sessions in a park or a salon taking its clients’ temperatures at the door, business owners have adapted.

In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Herald spoke to three female business owners, who shared stories of how they were impacted by the pandemic and what they had to do to adapt.

Kelly Machusky, of Long Beach, owns Caya New York, on Merrick Road in Seaford, where she teaches barre, Pilates and yoga. She recalled that when she heard last March that businesses had to close, she stayed up through the night with her employees to try to create a virtual platform.

“We never had an online platform before this,” Machusky said. “We never did anything virtually, so the silver lining was that we were able to create this alternative online presence. It’s not only been a benefit for people who aren’t comfortable with coming to the studio, but now people from different states can join our classes.”

“I attended a class at least twice a week,” said Kim Tierney, 26, of Wantagh, “and it was such a saving grace for me during those first few months of the pandemic.”

As the weather turned warmer, Machusky began offering free in-person classes at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford, and on the sand at Jones Beach. “We understand that a lot of people lost their jobs or were financially struggling, and were thinking about what we could do for them,” she said. Instead of paying, patrons could make a donation or write a positive review of Caya on social media.

“It brought a lot of people together, and was great for everyone’s mental health, too,” Machusky said. “I can’t wait for it to get warmer, because we’re definitely going to do it again.”

Other businesses built a virtual presence when in-person activities were on hold. “Forcing my business to shut down was like forcing my entire life to be on pause,” said Carissa Cillis, the manager of the boutique What a Girl Wants, in Seaford. “After a few feelings of defeat and a meltdown or two, I decided to figure it out.”

Within a month, the staff at What a Girl Wants had built an online platform from scratch and, Cillis said, she had to repeat to herself the mantra, “Something is better then nothing.” “I was working every day to make an online or phone sale just to survive,” she recounted, adding that she would drive across Nassau County and deliver orders herself.

Despite business dropping to 25 percent of normal, Cillis remains optimistic, knowing that she survived the worst of the pandemic. “We’ve grown smarter and stronger,” she said. “We have a greater appreciation for our community, other business owners and customers than ever because without them we wouldn’t have made it.”

This summer, What a Girl Wants will relocate from Seaford to the Cherrywood Shopping Center, on Wantagh Avenue in Wantagh.

Some businesses, such as barbershops, salons and bowling alleys, didn’t have the capability to service their clients online. But Iris Salon, in Seaford, hit the ground running when it was permitted to reopen in June. 

The salon’s 4,300-square-foot space on Merrick Road allowed clients and employees enough room to socially distance without worry, said owner Iris Slotkin, a native of the Dominican Republican who came to the U.S. in 1985. She pursued a career in cosmetology, enrolling at the Wilfred Academy in Manhattan the following year. Then, in 2015, she opened Iris Salon. 

“To help our clients feel comfortable, we have initiated a new routine that accounts for when a client enters and leaves the salon,” Slotkin explained on the salon's website. Clients’ temperatures are checked at the front desk, and stations are sanitized in between appointments. Masks are required, as is social distancing.

“We’re happy to be back at work,” Slotkin said, “and taking care of our amazing clients.”