The Hudson Valley’s entry into phase two of the four-phase COVID-19 economic reopening and recovery plan on June 9 was marked by a modest increase in commuter, pedestrian and vehicular activity in the region rather than a sudden massive return to the way things were before the shutdown. While second phase allows for offices to begin reopening, parking lots at many office complexes remained nearly empty.
“It does feel like quite an accomplishment of hitting this milestone of entering into phase two,” Bridget Gibbons, Westchester County’s director of economic development told a news conference at the County Office Building in White Plains.
“Phase two feels like a little bit of relief, but in this phase we’re going to be seeing a lot of movement of people. Offices are going to be filling up, retail is more active, restaurants having outdoor dining. And, we just need to be sure we’re diligent and smart.”
Gibbons said people need to abide by guidelines, socially distance and wear masks as appropriate to avoid allowing the virus to intensify again. She reminded businesses that they need to have a safety plan and affirm to the state that the state’s guidance regarding reopening has been read.
“You have to submit your contact information through a form to New York state indicating that you have read the guidance and will abide by it,” Gibbons said. She directed businesses to the state’s reopening website at forward.ny.gov/phase-two-industries.
“As we start the process of opening businesses, it’s not merely that the authority to reopen businesses occurs,” County Executive George Latimer said. “It’s that people have confidence that they can go back to restaurants, they can go back to retail stores, they can go back to the life that they had as recently as the first week of March and feel comfortable that they can do that without undue fear of spread of the disease.”
Croton-on-Hudson Mayor Brian Pugh also was on hand and said that at the June 8 meeting of the board of trustees they approved expanded sidewalk dining. “We also are under discussions with our local departments, police department, fire department, EMS, as to how we can strategically close streets to allow for pedestrianization on a temporary basis and facilitate outdoor dining as well. The village of Croton, just as Westchester County, wants to do everything we can to help our businesses get going again,” Pugh said.
John Ravitz, executive vice president and CEO of The Business Council of Westchester, said, “We are in such unchartered waters now. None of us knew what we were facing when this pandemic hit. What I think puts Westchester on the map throughout the country is the ingenuity and the creativity that we’ve seen from our business leaders.”
Ravitz said that businesses are going to have to come up with creative solutions to help employees deal with issues surrounding child care as they return to work while usual school, summer camp and recreational opportunities remain disrupted. He also said that workers need to feel confident that employers have done everything necessary so that they are returning to a safe workplace.
Robin Eden Buco of the Mount Kisco store All Together Now said, “Coming back, opening today, it feels very surreal to let people walk into the store after so many days being closed. We’ve taken our necessary precautions of cleaning multiple times a day, like door handles, the checkout area, marking the six feet distance, putting up the Plexiglas partition. Unfortunately, in our store, we have a play area that’s not going to be open for children to use and our classes are going to be on hold for a little while longer.”
Allowing restaurants to again provide table service through outdoor dining was a late addition to the phase two provisions.
Glenn Vogt, owner of the RiverMarket Bar & Kitchen in Tarrytown, expressed a cautiously optimistic attitude.
“I think it’s important that we go slowly. We don’t want to see another spike. We’ve done such a great job of lowering that curve and we hope that we continue to see that trend,” Vogt said. “We really hope that people will come and enjoy being outside on the patio and understand that we’re just now getting things going again.”
Scott Broccoli, owner of The Rare Bit in Dobbs Ferry, said, “We’re looking forward to having our guests back. They become an extended part of our families. We see them once a week, sometimes twice a week when we’re lucky, and we get to know them. We get to know their children and everything about them. And, that’s what’s been missing.”
Broccoli said because restaurants already are held to high standards by the board of health, making adjustments to deal with COVID precautions has not been too difficult.
“We’re already hypersensitive to the issues that can occur in food handling and beverage handling,” Broccoli said.
Elvi Hoxhaj, owner of the Kee Oyster House in White Plains, said, “We do feel confident that people will come out. We are taking all the necessary precautions for safety. Together we’ll all get through it.”
John Crabtree, owner of the Crabtree Kittle House in Chappaqua, said, “I think the word of the season is surreal. In January, February, we were chugging along. We were set to have the best first quarter we had in our 39-year history. Then, bam. It just all stopped.”
Crabtree said management and the staff at the restaurant learned to create a new curbside business.
“We went in every day and our staff jumped in there and seamlessly just jumped in and created a new system. From our chefs, to our cooks, to our waitstaff, to our hostesses, we had a system going and suddenly our customers got in the flow of it too. We all became one big team and it was kind of wonderful to see. “
Crabtree said the current reopening is almost like creating a new business. “It’s nerve-wracking, It’s exciting. We can’t wait to see everybody back in our places.”