Editor’s Note: Dellaquila Beauty was closed Wednesday. We’ve replaced our original online story with the version that will be published in Thursday’s paper to reflect update information received today.
Feeling around the desk he uses to schedule appointments, Frank Dellaquila searched for a small booklet he said contains all the answers he needs to assure him that the business he runs with his wife, Denise, is allowed to reopen to customers.
“There it is,” he said before setting up his copy of the United States Constitution on a nearby table. “That’s my bible. I’ve had that a long time.”
The Dellaquilas of Mattituck, who have owned their eponymous beauty salon on Main Road in Jamesport for 17 years, are putting their faith in a belief that the current executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandating a shutdown of all nonessential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic is a voluntary recommendation and not an enforceable law.
The Riverhead Town Police Department has offered a different viewpoint, issuing an appearance ticket for the business owners and suggesting more action could be taken.
“It was like you can’t even imagine. You cannot even imagine,” Ms. Dellaquila said of a visit four police officers paid to her shop Tuesday afternoon. “They said if we open tomorrow, they’re going to arrest us.”
Dellaquila Beauty reopened for the first time in nearly two months Friday, May 15, the same day other parts of the state were set to reopen for Phase 1 of the governor’s plan to end the shutdown. That phase was limited to certain upstate counties and included construction, manufacturing and some retail uses. There are now seven out of 10 New York regions in Phase 1. On Tuesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone reported an additional 18 fatalities from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours as well as 103 new cases, not including antibody test results.
But the Dellaquilas, firm in their beliefs and concerned for the future of their business and the financial health of their employees, have decided to reopen anyway. They said they reached out to several local elected officials for guidance but did not receive any help, and instead turned to the internet to read opinions, including court rulings in other states that they say gave them the confidence to reopen.
Six of their 11 employees have agreed to return to work with them and they say they have so far received two visits from the town police — the first came with a warning Friday following a complaint from a passerby — asking them to close their business. They refused.
On Tuesday, they said four officers returned in three squad cars and stated that if police receive another complaint, the Dellaquilas, their employees and even customers could be arrested for violating the executive order. The salon owners opted to not reopen Wednesday and are expected to remain closed as they discuss options with attorneys.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the business owners were issued an appearance ticket under Section 12-b(2) of the public health law.
“We want everyone to comply,” he said. “We have this thing in place to keep people safe.”
He said he believes it’s the first appearance ticket issued in Riverhead Town under the public health law during this pandemic.
Violating the public health law is a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $2,000 for a first violation and $5,000 for second violation.
“Everybody’s got to stay the course,” the chief said. “It’s going to get better.”
Sue Hancock of Jamesport said she was getting her hair cut and styled along with a manicure and a pedicure when police arrived.
“It surprised me,” she said. “You don’t normally see three policemen [and a female sergeant] coming in to an upscale hair salon.”
The Dellaquilas said they’ve reduced the number of appointments they ordinarily book in order to meet social distancing guidelines. The staff is also wearing personal protective equipment, including masks, and disinfecting frequently. The stations being used are all six feet or more apart. They are only meeting with existing clients and are asking and answering questions about health and safety before scheduling appointments. The Dellaquilas said neither they nor any of their employees has tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Before someone sits down and as soon as they get up, they’re over there disinfecting,” said Debbie Davis of Wading River, another client who was at her appointment when the officers met with the Dellaquilas Tuesday.
An owner of a landscaping business that was deemed essential, Ms. Davis said she is sympathetic to what the Dellaquilas and others are going through as they have been forced to close since late March.
Mr. Dellaquila said the couple secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but without reopening to additional revenue they feared the business his wife opened in 2003 would be forced to close for good. They said they’re not the only salon or small business operating in town during the shutdown, but that police are only responding to businesses where the public lodges a complaint. He said he witnessed a man visiting the neighboring post office call police shortly before they arrived Tuesday.
“We were very obedient,” Ms. Dellaquila said of the weeks they spent at home. “The impact of that is that we needed to open our business. We were closed for two months. Everyone needed to get back to work.”
The salon is among a growing number of businesses still considered nonessential that recently opened back up on the North Fork.
Officials in both Southold and Riverhead towns said they are receiving and responding to complaints about businesses that have reopened prior to state and county officials declaring an end to the shutdown, but, prior to the appearance ticket being issued at the salon, that has been limited to simply bringing these businesses into compliance.
Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said his department hasn’t gotten many complaints about businesses operating outside of the shutdown. Supervisor Scott Russell added that the town received complaints about a business in Southold village that had to be brought into compliance last week.
“People are getting desperate and I can understand their wanting to get up and running, but there is an executive order in place and we have no choice but to require that owners close if they are prohibited by the order,” Mr. Russell said.
The supervisor added that, in some instances, town residents are seeing businesses — mostly builders and landscapers — they believe are violating the governor’s order based on the way they are interpreting what the state has said, but they’re not always correct. A look at police reports issued this month shows at least one kitchen restoration that had to be stopped in Mattituck after the contractor was notified he was not in compliance with state regulations.
Mr. Russell said he believes the governor could apply “more common sense” to what has been ordered by “allowing low-risk businesses to open.”
“Conditions can be put in place to ensure public health,” the supervisor said.
The chorus of discontent over the governor’s shutdown order has grown louder in recent days. A reopening rally in Commack that was covered by News 12 gained national attention Friday when a video shared on Twitter by the local reporter covering it was retweeted by President Donald Trump, who quoted a person in the video who told the reporter “fake news is not essential.” The president then retweeted the video a second time calling the protesters “good people.” Earlier Friday, journalist Katie Couric tweeted words of encouragement at the reporter, Kevin Vesey.
State and county officials have given no specific date for Phase 1 here as Suffolk and Nassau counties continue to work toward meeting state criteria to reopen. It has also not yet been decided how much time must pass before Long Island can move on to Phase 2. To date, seven upstate regions have been allowed to begin to reopen, but none have reached the second phase.