Diocesan News

Business Owners Nervously Reopen as New York City Enters Phase Two

Sal Finazzo, the owner of Baci Ristorante, set up an outdoor café beneath a tent on Third Avenue and was ready to welcome back customers. (Photo: Paula Katinas)


BAY RIDGE — Business owners expressed cautious optimism for the future as New York City began Phase Two of its delicate reopening process after a forced three-month closure brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

In Bay Ridge, a neighborhood populated by hundreds of mom-and-pop stores and cozy restaurants, merchants were keeping their fingers crossed on June 22, the day Phase Two began.

“We’re ready. And we’re excited,” said Lisa DeLuca, owner of Charmed by JLM, a jewelry store on Third Ave. 

DeLuca, who kept things afloat during the shutdown by concentrating much of her business online, said she was eager to welcome back shoppers in person. 

“We will obey the rules, of course,” she told The Tablet. “We have face masks to give them if they don’t have one. And we have hand sanitizer ready.”

Over at Baci Ristorante, an Italian eatery on Third Ave., owner Sal Finazzo and his workers spent the morning moving tables, chairs, tablecloths, and cutlery to an outdoor café he set up beneath a tent at the curb.

“I’m happy to see this day,” he said.

When asked if he thought customers would venture out after quarantining themselves at home for three months, he said, “I know they’ll come out. They’ve been calling us non-stop to ask when we’re opening.”

Phase Two of the reopening allows outdoor dining, offices, in-store retail spaces, hair salons and barbershops, real estate services, and houses of worship to open under strict guidelines that include social distancing and restrictions on the occupancy numbers.

Under Phase One, construction, manufacturing, and wholesale supply-chain stores were allowed to open. Retail shops were permitted to do business — but only with curbside pickup and no shopping allowed inside the store.

Phase Two in New York City received the go-ahead from Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the number of coronavirus cases has decreased significantly from the height of the pandemic in April and May. 

Church pastors in Bay Ridge, who are busy preparing to resume public Masses on Monday, June 29, are hoping neighborhood businesses do well as many business owners are parishioners of local churches. 

“We hope that everyone feels comfortable enough to come back to their favorite stores,” said Father Gerard Sauer, pastor of St. Patrick’s Church.

Robert Howe, president of the Merchants of Third Avenue, was happy to have opened his law office. 

“It feels good,” he said. “I think shoppers will be excited to go back into our stores and restaurants after being cooped up at home for so long.”

There were signs on the streets that customers were eager to emerge from hibernation. Mimo Andi and Axha Alla were seated at a sidewalk table outside Cocoa Grinder. sipping Pellegrino. “It’s a nice day to be sitting here,” Andi said.

But not everyone decided to open on June 22, despite getting the green light from the government.

“We’re going to wait until Tuesday. We’re normally closed on Monday anyway,” said Anthony Marsillo, owner of Gino’s, an Italian restaurant on Fifth Ave. 

Marsillo said he built a platform for an outdoor café near the curb outside his eatery to accommodate al fresco diners. 

“It will have 30 seats,” he said. “The city is being cooperative here. We’re allowed to go eight feet out into the street.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said it was important for the de Blasio administration to give restaurateurs some leeway to help them survive.

“Giving restaurants a wide array of options for outdoor seating is a necessity to ensure these businesses stay afloat while we manage a safe re-opening process,” Adams said in a statement.

Adams had two suggestions: Allow restaurants to operate outdoor cafes until October and have the city lend owners NYPD barriers and Department of Transportation street cones to mark outdoor café boundaries. Currently, the owners have to purchase them.

Sal Forte, owner of HOM, a restaurant-boutique on Third Ave., was taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the start of Phase Two.

“We’re going to open Friday,” he said. “I want to get back some sense of normalcy, of course, but I find the city’s regulations about what you can and cannot do a little confusing.”

“I’d like to wait a little to see how the dust settles,” he added.

Forte lost both of his parents to coronavirus within two days of each other. His father Sal died on April 2 and his mother, Helen, lost her life on April 4.

HOM helps him cope with his devastating losses because it gives him something to keep him busy, he said. 

Forte feels confident customers would return once he reopens: “Bay Ridge has been very supportive.”