East End chamber groups say businesses are ‘on the brink of ruin,’ want to move to Phase 4

A new group that represents Chambers of Commerce across the East End is urging state officials to allow East End businesses to open at Phase 4 of the state’s reopening guidelines in order to prevent businesses from missing the summer season. 

“We are already more than two months into our peak season,” said Bob Kern, president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, at a press conference Tuesday outside the Long Island Aquarium. “Many businesses are on the brink of financial ruin and some have already closed. And yet we continue to lose more business and dollars every single day we are not able to operate at full capacity.”

Mr. Kern and Glenn Vickers, president of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce, are the co-founders of the new East End Alliance of Chambers. It included chambers from Riverhead, North Fork, East Hampton, Montauk, Shelter Island, Southampton, Sag Harbor, Hampton Bays, Westhampton and Quogue. 

“The stimulus was a boost, but not enough to sustain months of closure,” Mr. Kern said. 

Most businesses were ordered shut in mid-March by executive orders from Governor Andrew Cuomo, with only businesses deemed “essential” being allowed to stay open. The goal of the closures has been to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The state has kept Suffolk and Nassau counties in one category, and allowed those areas to reopen at Phase 1 on May 27 and Phase 2 on June 10, which would allow restaurants to have outdoor dining, a move that would make up the lost capacity they are expected to have imposed on them by the state. 

Barring a change, Long Island isn’t scheduled to reach Phase 4 until July 8., but chamber members would like to see the state fast track the East End to Phase 4 now. 

Local businesses employ thousands of people and are the lifeblood of our communities, Mr. Kern said. 

“We need the state and county health departments to help us create a safe environment for our tourists and residents by opening up more businesses to stop the concentration in the limited places that are currently available for them to go,” he said. 

Mr. Kern said it is the goal of businesses to keep their customers safe by having plans that exceed the guidelines set by the state and the Centers for Disease Control. 

One downtown business that has been hurt by the lockdown is the Long Island Aquarium.

Bryan DeLuca, the executive director of Atlantis Holdings, which owns the aquarium, said lost ticket revenue means difficulty caring for the animals.

“The animals still need critical daily care,” he said. “They have dietary needs, they have medications and veterinarian needs.”

The New York State Rescue Center, the only facility in the state that rescues endangered turtles, seals and dolphins, is also supported by the aquarium, Mr. DeLuca said. 

“We are just mounting in debt at this time,” he said. 

Unlike large box stores, the aquarium is able to control the flow of how may people buy tickets, he said. The state currently lumps the aquarium in Phase 4 with things like concerts or performance halls, where people are sitting shoulder to shoulder. 

“The business owners are waking up every day and they’re wondering how they’re going to pay their bills,” said Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. She said they are wondering how to get their employees back, when they can make more money on unemployment insurance.

“There’s a lot of stress in the business community,” she said. 

On top of that, small businesses like those in downtown are facing competition from big box stores on Route 58 that the state has allowed to stay opened. 

“It’s time to get back to work,” Ms. Giglio said.

“It’s been a struggle for small businesses,” said Eric Alexander of Vision Long Island. “The rules have been rigged against the small business community and that is unfortunate.”