“The fear of the (COVID-19) virus has spread much faster than the virus itself,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer proclaimed outside Park Place Bagels 2 in Bronxville.
“That fear has caused some number of people to feel that they don’t want to go out as they might normally to shop and to dine … one of the reasons why we’re here today is to remind people that there isn’t anything to fear and they should feel comfortable coming out,” he said.
Latimer was joined by County Legislator Ruth Walter, Bronxville Chamber of Commerce President Leah Caro, Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin and Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins on Tuesday to show support for local businesses as the COVID-19 outbreak continued to intensify.
They held a news conference outside of the store to urge residents not to be afraid to shop, dine at restaurants and otherwise take advantage of what Westchester has to offer, while taking common sense precautions as would be the case with any illness such as influenza.
The group later went inside to have bagels and coffee without being at all concerned about mingling with the crowd of regular customers. Ironically, the bagel store is across the street from NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital, which is where the 50-year-old attorney, who was the first Westchester case of COVID-19, initially had been hospitalized.
“We’re doing everything we can rationally do to respond to the facts as we have them and they do change from day to day to day,” Latimer said. “We’ve formed a working partnership with local governments. We had a conference call yesterday with all the municipal governments. We had a conference call this morning with representatives of school districts which we met with yesterday morning. We’re responding in every way we can to the information on ground.”
Latimer said the county made a decision to postpone five events where there would be crowds of people.
“We did not stop the opening of our golf courses … because when people pay golf they don’t cluster in a large group of people,” Latimer said. “We did not shut down our nature centers. You try to make decisions proportionate to what you think the potential risk is.”
Caro said she has not noticed a drop in business activity and there’s been no dramatic surge in the number of vacant parking spaces around Bronxville.
“I came through Bronxville Saturday night on foot and every restaurant really seemed to be at capacity the way they are on every other weekend,” Caro told the Business Journal. “I think it’s really going to come down to individuals feeling comfortable or not getting out there. If you feel you’re in a demographic that’s more susceptible maybe you’re not heading out as much but it seems to me most folks are living their lives like they normally do, maybe keeping some distance between them, maybe not shaking hands and hugging and kissing, but they are going out to eat and are shopping.”
In addition to heading the 400-member Bronxville Chamber of Commerce, Caro owns Park Sterling Realty.
“We are having a lot of conversations in my shop about public interactions we have, like at public open houses.” She noted that at one open house that took place as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to climb, they had 26 sets of people. “People are still going out and real estate is a big part of commerce.”
Meanwhile, John Ravitz, executive vice president and CEO of The Business Council of Westchester told the Business Journal that that it has been putting its members’ health as the top priority and has postponed a number of events that had been scheduled either in its headquarters at 800 Westchester Ave. in Rye Brook or at hotels.
“We also were notified by our building management that there had been a tenant who had tested positive for the virus and the building is obviously going to take all the safety precautions,” Ravitz said. “We had to alert everybody who had attended meetings in our building last week that we had gotten this information from the building management and we attached the notice from the building with the safety precautions that they are taking.”
“We’re hearing from our members that they’re taking all of the safety precautions that are necessary,” Ravitz said. “It’s a fluid situation that’s changing dramatically on a daily basis so everyone I think is doing the right thing by staying laser-focused on getting the most updated information.”
Ravitz said many BCW members have been making efforts to communicate with their customers about how they’re handling the virus situation.
“Jacob Bruns Film Center put out a well-detailed message on how they are dealing with the virus and the precautions that they are taking and I think other businesses in different sectors are also doing the same thing,” he said.
“Westchester County, unfortunately, is at the center of a lot of what’s happening in New York state with the number of cases that have been diagnosed,” Ravitz said. “Businesses in Westchester County have to be very proactive knowing the situation and the location where they are.”