City residents are looking at a glum Memorial Day weekend — they won’t be allowed in the waves at Rockaway Beach and they’ll be barred from shoreline parks run by Nassau County — but small businesses are more concerned about the financial impacts.
“[Business owners] are far from happy,” said Michael Gliner, a co-board member of the Rockaway Business Alliance. “There’s a lot of revenue from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and if Nassau County beaches are open and Jersey’s beaches are open, there’s no reason we can’t be open.”
Gliner owns Pip Marketing Signs Print, which like other area shops, has seen a 70 percent decline in business since the pandemic began. He said he and other owners worry that the longer the restrictions last, the harder it will be to recover.
“A lot of businesses are saying that if they’re unable to open and there’s no beach and no parks the stores are going to lose a lot of income. They still have to pay rent, insurance, utilities,” said Gliner, who added that seasonal restaurants and retail stores are suffering alike.
Mayor de Blasio had originally stated on May 15 that opening city beaches is “not in the cards” for the city, but after lobbying from officials like city Councilmember Eric Ulrich (D-Ozone Park) he announced that they would open for pedestrians, but not for swimming.
“Our beaches play a vital role to the local economy and offer recreation that is imperative for New Yorkers to maintain their mental health during this crisis. A full beach closure would have dealt a devastating blow to Rockaway’s local economy,” Ulrich told the Chronicle in an email, adding that he was “thrilled the Parks Department will begin training lifeguards and hiring additional staff.” Owners like Gliner, however, are not convinced the small opening will bring enough relief to small businesses.
“The whole idea is that after sitting in the sun for a couple hours you can go in the shade of a restaurant and get a drink or breakfast or lunch, but to walk outside and have to eat your curbside pickup in the sun? I’m not convinced many will want to do that,” he said, noting that beachgoers from beyond Rockaway might not have an interest in visiting retail shops either because they’d have to tote the bags across crowded subways and ferries.
Even Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s May 19 announcement that she’d sign legislation designating Nickerson Beach near Point Lookout, LI, for Nassau residents’ use only to reduce overflow from the city doesn’t convince Gliner that city residents will instead turn to Rockaway Beach and its businesses. The City of Long Beach also said they wouldn’t allow nonresidents to use its shores. The moves limit city beachgoers to state parks like Jones Beach, which Gov. Cuomo ordered to operate at 50 percent capacity, and Jacob Riis Park in Rockaway, which is federal.
Other restrictions outlined by the governor include closing all concession stands; prohibiting group activities such as volleyball and football; closing areas of social gathering such as picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions, arcades and amusement rides; enforcing social distancing rules for employees and visitors; requiring masks be worn by employees and visitors when social distancing is not possible; and ensuring staff levels are adequate to achieve the mandates and enforce crowd control.
Even if Rockaway Beach sees large crowds over the weekend despite the governor and mayor’s restrictions, Gliner fears many beachgoers won’t be spending money at the areas shops.
“If people aren’t working they’re not spending money,” he said simply. “These stores are practicing social distancing just because on a normal business day they only get one customer at a time ... It’s gorgeous to be down here, but it’s a ghost town.”
While there is some hope the beaches will resume normal operations at some point this summer, Gliner said it needs to come sooner rather than later. “It’s tough. We’ll have to see in two weeks, but it doesn’t look good,” he said, referring to Cuomo’s latest PAUSE extension date to June 13.