Everyone’s lives have been touched in some way by this pandemic, there is no secrecy behind this, but life is especially different for the small businesses on Plandome Road. As the fall and winter creep closer, the uncertainty of what is next keeps growing for owners and staff.
“It’s hard to tell because every month is different,” Gino’s Manager Louie Larocca said. “Every month, we don’t know what to expect. We keep high hopes and just go along with what comes towards us like everyone else out there.”
The business district already had their own problems before the pandemic hit. Parking along Plandome Road has always been an issue for patrons and several “For Rent” signs hanging on the glass windows of empty storefronts.
The plumbing issues should not be overlooked. Gino’s is paying $4,000 a month to empty out their cesspools and fellow neighbor Louie’s Manhasset Restaurant is shelling out $4,412 a month. A plan to put a sewer system along Plandome Road’s business district has been stalled.
But this is worse. It’s much worse than a pile of feces underneath your dining establishment.
“I don’t know if we can take another six-month hit like this,” Louie’s co-owner Peter Pagonis said. “The bills are not going away.”
Louie’s and Gino’s are currently making around 50 percent of what their sales were before the pandemic. No drastic cuts were made to either of their staffs, preferring to cut down and shift the hours of their employees. They both received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but that money has dried up.
“It’s so weird,” Pagonis said. “I never thought our business would not be busy. I’m trying to keep my entire staff, me and my partners have been working less hours so they can work.”
While their business has changed a great deal, neither are able to provide outdoor seating for their customers. The Town of North Hempstead started a program for sidewalk permits that would allow the small businesses to have outdoor seating on their sidewalks. While some eateries did so, like the Pita Station, Louie’s and Gino’s have not went forth with the idea.
“The sidewalk is so small,” Pagonis said. “I heard them saying we could do something where you could open up the street but it’s bittersweet. You’re taking away parking spots, where are they going to park their car to come eat?”
While there is very little outdoor seating on Plandome Road, the Town of North Hempstead has set up picnic benches in Mary Jane Davies Green so patrons can eat their meals there. One local business owner said that a lot of their customers will go there after picking up food from their establishment.
Gino’s and Louie’s also have parking lots that could be applicable for outdoor seating, but decided against it for different reasons.
“There is not much space at all [for outdoor seating] and who wants to sit in a parking lot,” Larocca said. “If you see our parking lot, it’s not much. They gave us three [parking] spots, what is that going to do for me?”
For Louie’s, the cesspool wort came back to haunt them.
“We can only do [outdoor seating] in the parking lot in the back, but we have six cesspools back there and they smell horrible,” Pagonis said. “We thought about it, we thought about it a lot, but then we figured it was not going to work out.”
There has been some success with outdoor seating on Plandome Road, it’s not all doom and gloom. Publicans was able to get permission from the town to put a large tent in the adjacent parking lot. The tent takes up no parking spots, but they did have to move their dumpster to the other side of the parking lot. The tent allows them to sit around 40 people outdoors, while there inside seating was reduced to 50 people.
“It has been pretty good, the community has supported us pretty well,” Publicans’ Executive Chef Ben Diederirks said. “Our sales have been slowly increasing, especially since we were afforded by the town an opportunity to do outside dining and then with the ability to do inside dining again.”
Publicans is currently making around 70 percent of the sales compared to pre-pandemic times, according to Diederirks. The tent has been great for them, but it’s not a permanent fix. Fall is already here and winter is coming. What will happen to Publicans when customers don’t want to sit in the cold is a reality they might soon have to face.
“If we lose the outside tent and we can’t add tables inside because of state law then we can’t have more sales. The only thing we can do then is takeout. We’re not packing out the seats we have inside, most people want to eat outside, but we can potentially have more people inside, within the regulations. However, if we lose the tent outside, we lose half our seating.”
While Publicans hopes the NFL’s return will produce more customers on gamedays and places like Louie’s embrace delivery for the first time, they are still walking into a dark hole and unsure of what is on the other side.
In such uncertain times, most local businesses would look to their local chamber of commerce for leadership and guidance. However, not much has come from the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce. The last post on their website, www.manhassetny.org, came on May 5, a two-month gap from their previous post on March 5. The current co-presidents of the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce are Elizabeth Johnson, who does not own a business in Manhasset and has recently moved out-of-state, and Stephanie Solomon, whose Chocolate Works store recently shut down previously this year. Attempts to reach Johnson and Solomon were unsuccessful.
However, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel for the business community in Manhasset.
“Hopefully, by January, there will be a vaccine and this will all be over,” an optimistic Diederirks said.