A ribbon-cutting ceremony typically commemorates the beginning for a business, but for Rea Leunes and her family, the rib
A ribbon-cutting ceremony typically commemorates the beginning for a business, but for Rea Leunes and her family, the ribbon-cutting last week outside their Pita Bowl restaurant in Lindenhurst was a celebration of survival.
Leunes opened her restaurant just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown began last March and never had a chance to have an official ceremony, so she decided to finally hold the event while marking her one-year anniversary.
“It was a celebration of a continuation,” said Leunes, 52. “It was to say, ‘Here we are, we made it!’ “
The Pita Bowl is one of a half-dozen businesses that opened in the village in the months prior to the pandemic. New establishments already are shaky, with an estimated 20% of small businesses failing within the first year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Add a pandemic into the mix and owners suddenly found themselves scrambling.
Hermanas Kitchen and Cocktails closed for nearly two months at the start of the pandemic, as the owners tried to figure out how to proceed. The restaurant had opened in January and hadn’t put together a takeout menu yet, said Sara Pesserillo, 37, one of three owners.
“We didn’t even have takeout containers or know how any of the food would travel,” she said.
They put a table outside the door and began selling margaritas and handheld food to go. The new focus also gave the restaurant a new item, rice balls, that is now their top seller.
Lindenhurst has not seen as many vacant storefronts arise as in some other downtowns this past year because revitalization efforts yielded several owners who were already in the process of opening, said Village Trustee RJ Renna. They thought they could wait out the pandemic, he said, but realized their money was tied up and they needed to move forward.
“I’m not going to lie and say we have some secret sauce here,” Renna said. “Pre-COVID we were blessed to have a lot of businesses that wanted to come here, and they stayed committed.”
Owners said sympathetic landlords played a role in ensuring their survival, as did efforts by businesses to support one another. For restaurants, delivery and curbside models were established.
Alice Bopp, 46, shut down her café, Muni’s Coffee Joint, for a week on the one-year anniversary of opening in March. Then she remembered the store’s front window.
“I said either we close the doors and open a window or we close down for good,” she said.
Curiosity over the line of people picking up coffee at the window helped create a buzz for her business that she was still trying to foster pre-COVID-19. Bopp said she also began to form bonds with customers — nurses, firefighters, those who lost family members —that she didn’t have before the pandemic.
“There were moments of tears and moments of laughter, trying to cheer each other up at that window,” Bopp said.
She remains concerned about her business’ future.
“I feel like there’s still a cloud in front of us,” Bopp said. “But I feel like I’m just now starting to see a little sparkle at the end of the tunnel.”
BUSINESS IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
March to October 2020: 20,157 firms submitted business formation forms to the state, the most in the past five years.
Revenue declines: As of August 2020, average daily revenue among small businesses in the United States was down by 47.5% in the leisure and hospitality sector, down 16.4% in the education and health services sector, and down 14.1% in the retail and transportation sector compared to January 2020.
Sources: New York Department of State, Brookings Institution
Denise Bonilla has worked at Newsday since 2003 and covers the Town of Babylon, including the villages of Lindenhurst and Amityville.