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Located at 17 John St. in Millerton, Gilded Moon Framing owners Paul and Jill Choma paid homage to the reopening of small businesses in New York state with a sign stating, “We are Small Business.” Photo submitted

Businesses rejoice in reopening their doors

HARLEM VALLEY — Heeding the guidelines issued by New York state and taking the necessary precautions for keeping themselves and their customers safe, local businesses across the region are taking the first steps to reopening their doors to the public. Though it’s clear they’ll be operating under a new normal, businesses are doing their utmost to stay safe while trying to resume operations and regain some of the revenues they’ve lost since being shut down by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York State on PAUSE Executive Order issued in March to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Prepared to offer local business owners guidance for reopening their doors and retaining customers at this time, the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation held a “Back to Business: Ready for the Big Comeback!” webinar in May. To learn more about the webinar, see Webinar suggests how to get Back to Business in Dutchess County for the full story.

To help protect New Yorkers and continue to slow the spread of COVID-19, Cuomo issued another Executive Order on May 28, to allow business owners to deny entry to anyone who refuses to wear a face mask or other face covering in their business. 

“When we’re talking about reopening stores and places of business, we’re giving the store owners the right to say ‘If you’re not wearing a mask, you can’t come in.’” Cuomo said. “That store owner has a right to protect themselves; that store owner has a right to protect the other patrons in that store. You don’t want to wear a mask, fine, but you don’t have a right to go into that store if that store owner doesn’t want you to.”

Rest assured, store owners across the Harlem Valley have been heeding that warning by making sure their employees and patrons are wearing masks and by exercising the proper health and safety protocols. 

Take, for instance, the Millbrook Antiques Center, which reopened to the public on Saturday, May 30. Six to 8 feet markers have been placed on the floor to keep people from mingling, and customers have been asked to proceed in a clockwise fashion throughout the store to avoid passing each other; signs have also been installed to have customers move in a single direction. A plexiglass shield has been installed at the front counter and hand sanitizer is available at the front of the store. Millbrook Antiques Center owner Tom McGeady said the door and hand rails out front will be cleaned with a sanitizing wipe each time someone comes out of the store, and the store itself will be cleaned top to bottom each day.

As far as masks are concerned, McGeady said every customer is required to wear one. If patrons don’t have a mask, the store will supply one; if they won’t wear one, they will be refused entry. In terms of the number of employees working at the store, McGeady said he’ll be the only one operating the store until the state reaches Phase Two of reopening the economy.

When asked if he had any concerns about reopening, McGeady said, “I think we put everything in place that we could. I suppose there’s always that element of concern, but we have to open or close for good — that’s what we’re coming down to.”

In the village of Millerton, Elizabeth’s Jewelry and Fine Gifts reopened on Wednesday, May 29, for curbside pickup and drop off services. In addition to installing Plexiglas shields to create a barrier between the employee and customer at the register, a hand sanitizing station has been installed in the store and seating areas have been set up outside the business and on opposite ends of the store. Customers looking to drop off and pick up their jewelry for repairs have been asked to bring in their items in plastic bags.

When asked how business has been going so far, owner Elizabeth Trotta said the store’s received mostly drop offs for watch batteries and repairs. Seeing as the store’s received about four or five customers a day, business has been very slow to start. Though the store’s hours of operation have been reduced for its opening week, Trotta said she expects to expand the hours weekly. She has also reduced the workforce for the time being. 

Her other business in Millerton, Trotta’s Fine Wine & Spirits, also reopened on Thursday, May 29, with safety procedures similar to those implemented at Elizabeth’s Jewelry and Fine Gifts. To minimize contact among patrons, the store now has a self-serve station for people to pack their liquor, though Trotta said they can also use the store’s monitor to tell employees what they want to purchase.

“Of course, we have concerns,” Trotta said, “and that’s why we’re being so vigilant to protect ourselves and protect customers. Everyone’s health is our number one priority and we find that our customers have different levels of comfort coming into the store, so we’re trying to offer zero contact and minimum contact opportunities, but I feel with the decline of COVID-19 cases in our area that if we move slowly, we can monitor and make changes as necessary.”

Operating as an essential business in the hamlet of Wassaic, Jack’s Auto Service was fortunate to keep its doors open during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. With regard to keeping their employees and customers safe during the outbreak, Jack’s co-owner Linda Gregory said that the shop has been following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “along with a few extras.” Each car that comes into the shop is wiped down and sprayed with Lysol, and employees make sure to wear gloves on the job. Gregory has observed more people dropping off their vehicles, paying over the phone and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) when they drop off their vehicle at the shop.

“We’re living in such a tumultuous time,” Gregory said. “There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen for the end of 2020. All we can do is pivot and do what we need to do to make sure the customer is taken care of.”

After closing its doors around the end of March in response to COVID-19, Pine Plains Equestrian recently started allowing clients back onto the premises on Sunday, May 24. Keeping its hours of operation and number of employees intact, the equestrian facility has since been able to offer some outside lessons, though those lessons have been predominantly limited to the facility’s boarders due to restrictions on the number of people allowed at the facility. Right now, only two riders are allowed on site per hour and they are required to ride separately during lessons. Bathrooms have been labeled as hygiene stations where visitors can wash their hands when they enter and before they leave the facility. Protecting themselves and their clients by wearing face masks, employees make sure to keep a distance from one anther.

Regarding the pandemic’s impact on business, Pamela Lyons, the farm manager and trainer at Pine Plains Equestrian, said it changed slightly “in the sense that we weren’t able to let anyone in for so long, but it’s been a nice opportunity to make improvements to our facility and now we’re back to where we were except we need to keep it quieter.” If anything, she said it’s been a struggle to get the horses prepared for sales since the facility’s horse show season has been pushed back significantly.

“I think everything will be able to return to normal in a slightly more cautious way,” Lyons said.

Yet even with all of the businesses that are slowly finding their way through this new normal, there are still many working to acclimate to the current climate before they officially reopen. Though she initially intended to reopen her store on Friday, May 15, Charlotte Merwin of Merwin Farm & Home in Millerton said she decided to delay her reopening, until Thursday, June 4, though she’s very much looking forward to that day.

“It’s time to let life start again,” Merwin said. “I just hope the best for everyone in our village and that everyone comes out to support us and make an effort for those who are struggling.”

 Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro also stressed the importance of supporting “our neighborhood businesses” in the reopening process during his Facebook Live Town Hall on Thursday, May 29.

“They need our help more than ever and we need to be a hero to them,” Molinaro said.

After reviewing the latest COVID-19 data, Cuomo announced on Friday, May 29, that five regions in New York — including Central New York, the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country and Southern Tier — were allowed to enter Phase Two of reopening that day. According to his website at www.governor.ny.gov, Phase Two industries include “office-based workers, real estate services, in-store retail shopping and some barbershop services.” 

Assuming they keep the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and new admissions down and don’t see an increase in the severity of coronavirus cases, Molinaro reported during his recent Town Hall that Dutchess County and the Mid-Hudson Region will be transitioning to the next incremental step — Phase Two — which is expected to begin on Tuesday, June 9.

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