When the coronavirus pandemic hit Long Island in mid-March, it also hit local chambers of commerce. One of the chambers that had to quickly adapt to a new normal was the Covert Avenue Chamber of Commerce, which has the unique distinction of serving both the villages of Floral Park and Stewart Manor. Covert Avenue is home to many mom and pop shops, as well as some franchises.
“Our first meeting was held on March 4 and it was a great success,” President of the Covert Avenue Chamber of Commerce Magdalena Chen said. “As of the week of March 15, everything turned upside down and we, as a chamber, had to readjust quickly. We moved all our communications and meetings over to Zoom. This platform has been invaluable to allow the chamber to continue supporting its members and also allowing our local business owners to come together to strategize, share information and concerns. When the shutdowns began, there was confusion and panic, especially among the business owners. As the president of the chamber and also a business owner, I had to get ahead of it. The chamber started working closely with Mayor Michael Onorato of Stewart Manor and Mayor Dominick Longobardi of Floral Park.”
Chen instituted a resource coordinator, Aurora Tricoche, whose purpose is to curate the county, state and federal regulations, along with all the up-to-date funding resources available to business owners.
“Aurora is an information specialist and met this challenge head on,” Chen said. “Aurora has proven invaluable and receives constant praise from our members. Even Mayor Longobardi has expressed interest in consulting with Aurora in the near future. She has also implemented a newsletter loaded with resources for our members.”
In coming days, the chamber has meetings with County Executive Laura Curran, Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes Jeanine Driscoll and attorney John Guiffre, and it also suspended dues for this year in an effort to help alleviate any financial burden for business owners. The chamber also started promoting Covert Avenue businesses heavily on social media.
Chen is also owner of Carvel on Covert Avenue, which has been a community staple for years.
“Our doors at Carvel have managed to remain open during the lockdown,” Chen said. “Our store was the earliest adapter of safety protocols in terms of masks, gloves and disinfecting protocols. We did not wait for the governor and other officials to come to the conclusion that masks and gloves are essential during a pandemic. We value our employees and customers too much. My husband spent thousands on getting everything needed. In the beginning it was very difficult to find disinfecting supplies, so we made our own. Everything in the beginning was very expensive. Since May, the Carvel Corporation has been supplying their stores with a weekly supply of disinfectant spray. The corporation was quick to adapt to all safety regulations and protocols, and they have been very good at keeping all their franchisees informed.”
Carvel on Covert Avenue has installed plexiglass partitions on all of its counters for extra protection. Chen also put up signage in order to instruct customers of all safety rules and regulations. As an added service to the community, they also provide masks to customers who have forgotten them or who are just not aware of the laws.
“Beginning from the week of March 15 through the end of April, sales were down considerably with all the hysteria going on,” Chen said. “However, we stayed above water due to the increase in our delivery services with Uber, GrubHub and DoorDash. As stress levels started going up, so did sales. In the month of May, things started to turn around and sales have been steadily increasing. We have been incredibly blessed throughout this whole ordeal.”
And with the county’s implementation of possible street closures to allow outdoor dining for local restaurants, Chen said that local business owners on Covert believe it’s not feasible.
“When I polled the business owners, most have expressed concerns,” Chen said. “The majority of businesses that stayed opened during the lockdown survived because of the lifeline that delivery drivers provided and we really don’t want to mess with that. So as an avenue, we are considering all options and exploring all alternatives, such as bump outs and movie nights with a partial street closing.”
Before the pandemic hit, Chen put forth the idea of having Covert Nights Out, where store owners stay open late.
“We could illuminate the avenue and have a festive feel,” Chen said. “During these nights we could even have some outdoor seating. This idea is now more relevant than ever and I have been in communication with Mayor Onorato and Mayor Longobardi on all possibilities. Both mayors are working tirelessly to offer any support that they can to help their business districts and for that we are incredibly grateful.”