In less than a week-and-a-half, we’ve moved from being told to wash our hands and to stay inside if we’re sick (arguably good cautionary measures against the spreading of sicknesses at all times) to being instructed by our state leaders not to gather in groups, eat at restaurants, go to school, to our offices, travel or get any closer than six feet apart to anyone who is not part of your immediate family or domicile.
In terms of restaurants, bars and eateries, they went from having to reduce their patronage by 50 percent, moving tables and chairs so that each patron was no closer than six feet from each other, to being limited to takeout and curbside delivery only.
On Friday, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo ordered that all “non-essential” businesses close, as part of his Pause Executive Order, effective tonight at 8 p.m.
While restaurants and bars are still legally allowed to provide takeout (no more than ten people waiting for pickup at a time and standing six feet apart) or deliver their gastronomical delights curbside or by a delivery service, it has proven to have taken too great of a toll on some of New Paltz’s most popular eateries. On Friday, the Main Street Bistro announced that it would be closing until further notice. It was preceded by Asian Fusion, Garvan’s, Karma Road, McGillicuddy’s and Huckleberry’s, and soon followed by the Bakery, just to name a few.
Mike Katz, owner of Village Pizza and Carry Out Kings (www.carryoutkings.com), New Paltz’s local version of Uber Eats, has already waived the delivery fee during this time in an effort to help the businesses with which has partnered to stay up and running, and to reduce costs for those who want to have their favorite restaurant foods delivered to them in the midst of this public health crisis.
“The fees can be range from $2.99 to $7.99, depending on how far out you live,” said Katz, while sitting outside of Village Pizza, explaining to his employees that they had to move the metal picnic tables out front further apart to conform with the social distancing laws that keep evolving and getting more restrictive as the number of known infections of COVID-19 increase. “We’re just trying to do whatever we can do,” said Katz. “Before I bought Village [Pizza], I worked for years at Garvan’s. I love Garvan and his wife and his restaurant. It breaks me heart that they needed to [temporarily] close.”
Carry Out Kings is still going strong, but we’re in a world where everything changes day-to-day, if not minute-to-minute. “This past Tuesday we had 47 calls for deliveries,” he said. “That would be a good day on a weekend, when the college was in session. So, to have that many calls right now tells me that people want the food that they enjoy from our local restaurants, but that they’re staying home more.”
While the discounts still exist and Carry Out Kings is still delivering, several of its partner restaurants that have the highest demand have closed. “We’re fortunate because we’re set up for takeout here,” he said, pointing to the popular drive-thru window where, pre- or post-coronavirus world, pizza and calzones would fly out to hungry clients in cars.
P & G’s is one of the remaining restaurants to remain open from noon to 8 p.m., standing sentinel and stoic in this chaotic time. “We’re open every day; just call in and you can come and pick it up or we can bring it to the curb, or you can order through Carry Out Kings and they’ll deliver it to your door,” said Mike Beck. The longtime owner of P & G’s Cornerstone Restaurant and Bar recently passed on the business to his son Mike, Jr. and daughter Kristen Beck. “They took over in early February and I thought, ‘What a nice initiation to the restaurant business: First the village water supply is messed up, and now the entire county is messed up,” he said with a good-hearted laugh.
In an effort to help out bars and restaurants, the governor asked the State Liquor Authority to relax its procedures that would allow restaurants, bars and brewpubs to provide takeout beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. P & G’s is offering that upon request, but Mike, Jr. said that “Mostly it’s been a novelty request. People who are calling to place an order will ask if they can also have a mixed drink to go, and are just excited or curious about it, and we say, ‘Sure.’” They do have to-go coffee cups and soup containers, if someone is really jonesing for a Manhattan or Cosmo; but Mike, Sr. said that, while he appreciates the governor’s intent, in reality, “People who come in here to have a couple of drinks miss the social part of it. They want to sit down and talk with other people and the bartender and meeting up with friends.”
All the Becks agree that it has been “our regular, loyal customers that are still ordering takeout on a regular basis, and we so appreciate that. We’ve even had several local businesses call in and order 60 lunches, like Viking Industries, and that goes a long way,” said Mike, Sr. They have their chef on hand and a bare-bones staff, but they’re still open for takeout and curbside deliveries — as are several other small restaurants, like Mexicali Blue and Anatolia, and the always-popular Mountain Brauhaus. Village of New Paltz mayor Tim Rogers said that he has seen no evidence of the governor reversing course on allowing restaurants to serve takeout: “I see no indication that will change. People still need to eat.”
Even for those who are able to keep going without the college students or being able to have people sit and dine, there are dire economic impacts happening everywhere we turn. “Today was a really tough day,” admitted Douglas Thompson, longtime owner of the Main Street Bistro, known for its healthy, inexpensive food and long lines of locals, students, rock climbers and tourists alike wrapped around its brick building waiting for it to open or to get a seat. “I wish we would have known what direction this was going in earlier, because all of the restaurants had their truck deliveries on Monday. We had all of this food, and then the mandate comes to move to takeout only. We were trying to roll with everything and stay positive, but there comes a point where you just can’t afford to stay open, and it killed me to lay off my employees. They’re like my family.”
Thompson said that, besides being worried about his employees, who he believes have all gotten in touch with Unemployment, he was as worried about his family’s health as much as anyone else. “I’m home with my family right now, just hoping that everyone I care about is safe and healthy and that we hit this peak and get back to work.” There was an outpouring of love and appreciation from Bistro customers on Facebook and other social media outlets when it announced its [temporary] closure last Thursday. The Thompsons are known as much for their breakfast specials as they are for their community altruism, and that did not go unnoticed by the eatery’s fanbase
Mayor Rogers said, “My heart is breaking to see these businesses suffer and have to lay off their employees and close their doors. It’s taken an enormous toll on the village.” But at the same time, he said, “What’s impressive is how serious they’re taking into consideration public health. I really haven’t heard business owners complain about loss of revenue, even though we know they’re suffering. They’re more concerned about how they can protect people.”
A virtual day in the neighborhood
Mayor Rogers and deputy mayor KT Tobin hosted an online meeting with business owners this past Thursday to discuss the governor’s order, what businesses were “essential” and which ones were not, and to share information and experiences as to how they were faring during these challenging times. They had more than 30 businesses participate and covered a variety of topics. Rogers said he was pleased with how it went, and that they now plan on doing this online meeting every Monday and Thursday. To learn more about these live online conversations and how to become a part of them, e-mail Tobin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining in the conversation were the co-founders of One Epic Place, Julie Robbins and Nicole Langlois, who have worked to create a Virtual New Paltz Village Square on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/490620068493043. The intent was to have a place where they can brainstorm and showcase their wares and services, as well as be physically distant but “talk and support one another,” said Langlois, noting that on Friday, March 13 they had their “first virtual coffee.” Her hope is to “work together and navigate what we want this to look like, and to offer and ultimately create a place that keeps us all connected and finding ways that we can support each other’s businesses.”
One Epic Place plans a gift certificate page that is slated to go live on Monday. “We are still collecting information from local businesses that would like to offer something. If any local business would like to participate, we would need the following: what they are offering, the amount(s), contact information and their logo and/or image they would like on the digital gift card,” she said. The link is www.oneepicplace.com/local-gift-cards.
Neighborhood wellness check
On another positive community note, village trustee William Wheeler-Murray has more than 30 volunteers lined up to call on neighbors and village residents for “well visits,” to see how they’re coping and if they need anything to be picked up or brought to them. “We have a lot of people that live alone, are elderly or high-risk, and I wanted a way that we could just check in and make sure they’re doing okay and have a conversation and see if there’s anything we can do for them. I don’t think there’s a great need right now for this, but in the coming days and weeks there could be, so I wanted to have something in place.”
Anyone who would like to reach out to Wheeler-Murray can do so at email@example.com or on his Facebook page. He said that Family of New Paltz’s hotline is receiving a high volume of calls during this anxiety-producing time, and that he has also partnered up with SUNY New Paltz’s Institute for Disaster Mental Health.
Although people could not participate in any St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year, or go listen to traditional Irish music or drink pitchers of green beer at Foley’s, there was a “rainbow hunt” that Carolyn Mead Fulton put up on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/1209458149080059/search/?query=rainbow%20hunt&epa=SEARCH_BOX (clickable if you’re a member of the New Paltz Community Facebook page, screenshot below).
It encouraged villagers to paint rainbows or draw pictures of them or tape up a computer printout in their window or somewhere visible on the outside of their home or mailbox or property, so that all of these kids, who are not in school due to the pandemic could have a fun and safe activity to do outside. This was a movement to counter the isolation and give parents some ideas of things they could do with their younger children.
“I painted the rainbow because I was bored and wanted to do something creative that kids would enjoy,” said Nafi Diedhiou, 12, of Prospect Street. “The idea was like a low-tech Pokémon Go, where kids could go out for a walk in their neighborhood and try and find as many rainbows as they could,” said her mom, Kristen Masson-Diedhiou. “Plains Road had 17 rainbows!” she said, noting that Prospect residents needed to up their game.
Mayor Rogers also noted that the newly constructed Hasbrouck Playground — a refuge for families with young children — is officially closed and locked up, in response to the governor’s social distancing requirements.