A Soft Reopening: New York Business Starts Creaking to Life

ALBANY, N.Y. — Shuttered sectors of New York's economy began inching back to life Friday with more construction, manufacturing and curbside retail pickups allowed in parts of the state that are hours away from pandemic-stricken New York City. 

The smaller cities and rural regions of upstate New York have been spared the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is allowing many of those areas to gradually reopen first, industry by industry. 

The first wave of businesses includes retail — though only for curbside or in-store pickup — along with construction and manufacturing.

In rural Schoharie, the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe set out geraniums, petunias and gardening tools as it opened its nursery Friday. There are designated entry and exits for customers and 6-foot social distancing markers. No contact between staff and customers is allowed.

"We're strongly encouraging contactless pay. We do have older individuals who do not feel as comfortable with that, that shop with us, so we're accepting cash, but then we have a protocol for sanitizing our staff, as well as the cash itself," co-owner Joshua Loden said.

In the largely rural Mohawk Valley, DANVANN Construction & Development has an excavation job Monday at a lake on the southern edge of the huge Adirondack Park.

"I've been lounging around the house a lot, and I'm ready to get busy," said employee Justin Brown. "I'd rather be working." 

Job site rules will be different next week, with workers keeping their hands disinfected and their faces covered, said company owner Dan Roth, who has been paying his four idled employees.

They'll also "have to stay 6 feet away from each other as best as you possibly can," he said.

Cuomo's administration divided the state into 10 regions that will reopen on different timetables. Restrictions can't be eased until a region meets seven benchmarks demonstrating that COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are down and that there are enough hospital beds if the outbreak flares up again. Each region must have a program of testing and contact tracing. 

The five regions of New York that opened Friday cover a wide strip down the middle of the state. Excluded are New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley on the state's east side, and the Buffalo region to the west. 

It might resemble a soft opening.

A lot of manufacturing, construction and retail deemed essential has continued in New York during the restrictions. And curbside retail pickup has been available for food, wine and some other retail goods.

In Rochester, Tanvi Asher has been filling orders online for her Shop Peppermint and Salty Boutique clothing stores. She already has signs telling customers to stay in their cars while a worker brings packages to them. 

She will be open for curbside pickup Friday. But business is only about 25% of what it was before the pandemic, and she doesn't expect a rebound until customers can browse the racks. 

"Sadly, the truth is if I don't open, we will close forever," she said. "So, at some point we're going to have to open."

If new COVID-19 cases remain under control during the initial reopening, regions can open more types of businesses in a couple of weeks. The next phase will include office jobs like professional services and insurance, as well as retail. Restaurants are included in the phase after that, and then finally arts, entertainment, recreation and education. 

Along with the regional reopenings, Cuomo is relaxing other restrictions statewide. Warm weather gardening and landscaping businesses got permission to restart, as did drive-in theaters.

The Four Brothers Drive-In Theater near the Connecticut border opens for the season Friday evening with "Trolls World Tour" and "Birds of Prey" showing on the big outdoor screen.

Drive-ins, a nostalgic niche business before the pandemic, are suddenly an outlet for cooped-up families to watch movies safely from their cars.

"Our only concern is making sure we can control the crowd. And we actually hired some police to come in and direct traffic," said John Stefanopoulos, whose family runs the business 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of New York City. 

Businesses in the regions slated for reopening must come up with a plan outlining how they will prevent the spread of COVID-19, with requirements for providing face coverings and "social distancing markers" in common areas.


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