Local businesses implementing safety measures to protect staff, customers
By Joshua Maloni
Something happened Tuesday in the River Region that hadn’t happened in two months.
May 19 was the day in which Western New York entered into phase one of “New York Forward,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan for nonessential businesses shut down by his “New York State on PAUSE” mandate.
Lewiston merchants were preparing to offer product for curbside pickup. Artist and retailer Kathy Pignatora of Inspirations on Canvas placed a table by her store’s front entrance. Patrons could browse and purchase items in sort of a “drive-thru” setup as they walked down south Center Street.
“I've set up a little front way there where you can see some of my wares, but we came and I repainted. I've got new products. I wanted to get excited. I got a new backdrop: ‘Good vibes only.’ I've got dreamcatchers in this room now,” she said.
Cuomo “PAUSED” New York in March to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Pignatora said she understood the decision – she shut her doors before the governor’s edict was announced – but it left a lot of questions.
As she pondered new ways to reach customers, it became clear restrictions would continue throughout the summer – most notably, events with large gatherings would be canceled.
“Just my first initial reaction was, ‘I'm not going to make it.’ Like, ‘This is not going to work. How can this possibly work?’ Because I could see right away, I thought, ‘There's going to be no festivals,’ ” Pignatora said. “I have been here three-and-a-half years, and I've haven't done business in the summer without festivals and tourism. Without all of that, my biggest question and fear was, ‘How do I make it?’ ”
After feeling all the feels, Pignatora said her family motivated her to reach people in a different way.
“When you're faced with these obstacles, you either rise to the occasion, or you're going to become obsolete. It took me a few weeks and my family encouraging me – ‘You can do it; you can do it.’ It just seemed too overwhelming, too hard. I can't imagine Lewiston in the summer without what we're used to working; and I've got a system to how the summer helps me get through to Christmas, and Christmas helps me get through the long, cold winter,” Pignatora said. “I feel like it pushed me to do things out of my comfort zone, out of my box. And I feel empowered by the things that we have tried; and that have worked; and it's amazing.
“I feel like my daughter here, Olivia, she helped me with TikToks. We just tried anything. And my motto is always, ‘Throw it at the wall and see what sticks.’ So, I wanted to engage.”
Mayor Anne Welch is shown with Inspirations on Canvas owner Kathy Pignatora.
Pignatora began creating animal art, painting pets and gaining rave reviews from the online community. Though she couldn’t welcome people into her store, “We've engaged our following in a way I haven't before,” she said.
“I've always posted on Facebook and Instagram and whatever, but I've never had the engagement. I've done live videos of sales and, honestly, things I should have been doing in January, February, March. I'm bringing the products to people.
“I started a webpage I didn't have before. I'm selling on Society6. I didn't have that before. You can download items with my designs on them. I'm using Facebook and Instagram in a totally different, storytelling, engaging kind of way.”
“I'm trying to do things that are fun and put a smile on someone's face,” she added.
Pignatora said, “I have to say I feel so much love and support. More than I've ever felt in my three-and-a-half years here from this community. I’ve literally gotten messages: ‘You're not going anywhere. We're gonna keep you going. We believe in you. You're part of Lewiston.’ I mean, I can't say this without getting teary-eyed. I felt like I mattered, and that just kept building and building and building. So, it's what's keeping me going – my own drive – but the energy I'm feeling, the support and love I’m feeling from Lewiston, it’s amazing.”
A look at some of the items in front of Antique to Chic.
Judy Munzi of Antique to Chic said, “This has actually motivated us to improve our online presence and you can now ‘tour’ the store on our Facebook page. We have our reopening plan almost in place and we’ll be doing everything possible to make sure our customers feel safe and still have a great shopping experience.
“Of course, this has been a challenge for us and we will open gradually, with online purchase opportunities, days when you can make an appointment for a virtual tour, and days when someone will be present for curbside sales. We hope our customers will watch the outside of the store, because more items will be coming in and there will be revolving sidewalk sales.”
More Phases to Come
As New York enters phase two, it’s expected customers will again be allowed into retail stores.
“When people walk in, I've already bought a table – that's where the hand sanitizer is going to go. I expect everyone to wear a mask – I will be wearing a mask. I have Plexiglas. … And just spacing it out,” Pignatora said. “I believe strongly that we're doing the right thing, social distancing, to care for each other. And I want to keep doing and offering that to get through this. And we can just all keep going forward so that, next summer, I can see Barenaked Ladies again!
“So, that's the plan. I'll go with the phases and do what we're supposed to do. I'm not challenging any of that; and I'll just keep making it safe and doing my part.”
Restaurants will be permitted to have on-site dining in phase three, but local owners are unsure how to seat patrons in a time of social distancing.
Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch is already thinking about accommodating these guests, offering suggestions to eateries that have been limited to takeout and delivery service since mid-March.
“I have talked to several of the business owners, restaurant owners, trying to give them ideas of what they can do to help their business. We talked about opening our parks, putting up picnic tables in it for the restaurants. Academy Park, Hennepin Park and Lewiston Landing, our DPW is going to put more picnic tables out for the restaurants to use them as takeouts, or picnic in the park,” Welch said.
Cuomo is using seven reopening metrics, which he compiled from research conducted at the Centers for Disease Control and through the World Health Organization. These stats chronicle an area’s hospitalization rate, COVID-19-related deaths, and virus contact tracing. Once a region enters a phase, a two-week period of maintaining the numbers is required before a location can enter into the next phase.
"We are starting a new chapter in the fight against this virus – we've worked together as a state to flatten the curve, and the decline has finally reached a point where it is just about where we started this journey, so now we can turn to reopening," Cuomo said on May 11. "We have put regional ‘control rooms’ in place, which are made up of the top government officials and academic and health care professionals in that region, to watch the situation in each region develop and increase or decrease the activity and speed of reopening based on the metrics and guidelines. These ‘control rooms’ are critical, because we just made it over the mountain and nobody wants to go back to the other side now."
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is in charge of Western New York’s “control room.” Members include Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Speaking Wednesday on LCTV, Wydysh said, “We get a lot of questions about what comes next. … We've been fielding a lot of calls from very specific businesses, hair salons, restaurants – everyone's anxious to know when we'll reopen, and I certainly understand that. The fact is, the governor is not going to let a region move on to the next phase until we see what's happening with our numbers, where we stand now. We hope that everyone whose business is open is following those safe business plans and safety protocols; that's very important to make sure we keep continuing the social distancing, wearing masks, all of those other safety features that need to be in place as you start to have employees and clientele back in your businesses.
“Now, to some degree, we control our own destiny here. We know that to reach those metrics and to reach those numbers we all have to continue to do our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19. That's very important now that we're bringing more individuals back together into society, as we reopen during the different phases. But I want to be very clear here, again, that the reopening process rests with the governor and the state of New York.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul praised DiCamillo Bakery for its safety policies.
Spicey Pickle has a sign on the door: “No Mask = No Burrito.” Inside the restaurant, Plexiglas separates staffers from patrons.