After nearly two months of being cooped up in lockdown, Central New York will take its first baby steps toward re-opening Friday, as manufacturing, construction, retail and other select businesses are set to resume near-normal operations.
“I am excited to announce that Cortland County businesses included in the phase 1 regional re-start plan will be eligible to resume operations this Friday, May 15,” Cortland County Legislature Chairman Paul Heider said in a statement.
That’s a number of construction, wholesale, agriculture and select retail businesses that can do pickup and delivery, but not browsing.
“It’ll be great to say it’s over and we can remember when,” said Renee Niederman, who owns Bev and Co., a clothing and accessories shop on Main Street in Homer. “It’s been painful. It’s been painful financially; it’s been painful mentally. It’s just painful.”
Her shop closed before the state required it to, for safety’s sake, she said. She putters around, but the three or four employees have been out of work. Moreover, she’s not sure how the reopening will clash with the potential return of COVID-19.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
According to guidelines established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, regions of the state can reopen only if a list of seven requirements on coronavirus infection and testing numbers are met. The Central New York region — which includes Cortland County, as well as Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga and Oswego counties — has so far checked off every requirement except the one for testing, which stipulates that the area test at a rate of 30 residents per 1,000 monthly.
However, area officials think that this requirement will have been satisfied by the end of the week.
“I am confident that by this Friday we will have hit all of these benchmarks,” Heider said. The Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions have already met the seven requirements and are slated to begin the first phase of re-opening Friday.
The Southern Tier region includes Tompkins County.
Moreover, low-risk business and recreational activities, such as landscaping, gardening, tennis and drive-in theaters, will also re-open statewide Friday, according to the governor’s office.
Businesses that resume operation will also have to comply with state mandates, such as maintaining social distancing, or requiring mask use if this is not possible, as well as routine cleaning protocols, in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Many if not most of the Cortland area’s manufacturing plants, which were classified as essential, have remained open throughout the state lockdown, said Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency.
On Friday, area residents can expect to see remaining manufacturers re-open, he said. Also to resume: remaining construction; wholesale trade; agriculture, forestry, fishing; select retail businesses for pickup and delivery.
The observable difference to life with COVID-19 will not be huge, because many of the businesses in these categories are considered essential and have been operating throughout the lockdown.
But the change will be significant, and the resumption of residential construction will be one major change, said Bob Haight, president of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce.
“This will open the door to get them back to work,” he said.
Jeff Frederickson, president and co-founder of Crown Construction in Dryden, said he looks forward to resuming normal operations.“It (the lockdown) dramatically affected our business,” he said. “We had to quickly change the way we do business.”
But Phase 1 of re-opening will allow his company to resume large residential projects that had been on hold, and also speed smaller projects that had been limited to one worker per job site at a time.
“So really we should be back to full speed after Saturday,” Frederickson said.
The reopening of non-essential retail stores will be another obvious change — florists, jewelers, office supply and music stores, for instance — but items will be available only for pickup or delivery, and customers will not be able to browse around the stores.
Like Homer Men and Boys on Main Street in Homer. Owner Rob Garrison already does that. “We’re actually already open, because we’re an essential business,” he said, work clothes and shoes. However, he’s had to reduce hours and staffing to comply with state mandates.
“Hopefully, it will keep going in the right direction,” he said.
According to state guidelines, Phase 2 of re-opening could begin at the earliest two weeks after the beginning of Phase 2 – or, in the best case scenario — May 29.
Phase 2, which would only begin if the region continues to meet state mandates on infection and testing numbers, would allow the reopening of many offices and professional services.
VanGorder said his office will work with the Chamber of Commerce to provide information to businesses over the coming weeks to help them comply with state requirements.
“It’s in businesses’ best interest to put these in place,” VanGorder said. “We’re going to try to provide good information to those businesses as this thing rolls out over the next month and a half. We just want to make sure that everyone’s prepped and ready to go when the time comes. Doing it right is the best way to stay in business.”