Following busy weekend at shore, non-essential businesses reopen

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Non-essential businesses followed Gov. Phil Murphy’s reopening guidelines Monday after a two month COVID-19 shutdown. Businesses like Alex Pittan’s smoke shop can now offer curbside delivery of online and phone orders.

“They’ll call when they’re here and we’ll just put it together and bring it out front,” Pittan said. “You know, you can only go so long as a business being closed. Everyone still has their bills. You’ve still got rent to pay.”

Gito Alvarez owns a boutique and said he’ll take credit card numbers and deliver outfits curbside.

“I’m hopeful that our customers, our loyal customers that have been with us for 30 years, they’re going to return,” Alvarez said.

As a kids clothing shop, Pumpkin and Bean owner Claire Bader offers literal window shopping. She says it’s been tough with the pandemic.

“People driving up and looking in the window there and I can show them a few options and they can shop through a window,” said Bader. “People need to see, feel, touch, try on. It’s devastating.”

Eddie Decker owns Hackensack’s Musically Yours which caters sound systems and DJs. Even with a guarded reopening, his phone’s not ringing off the hook.

“We’ve virtually been shut down by the nature of what’s happening right now,” Decker said. “There’s no DJs going to weddings, there’s no bands doing festivals. And even more importantly is that backyard celebrations are dead. There’s no graduation celebrations.”

Hackensack’s Main Street Alliance has been urging Murphy to offer a clear plan with specifics. It’s something the governor offered at his daily press conference on Monday.

“It’s unbelievable how many of these businesses are so concerned that they’re not going to make it through this,” Alliance chair Bryan Hekemian said. “What the policies are going to be for opening so they can get their PPE, so they can be prepared to open and be organized to open in accordance with state guidelines.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to work with our merchants and our property owners to see everybody through this successfully to the other side,” said Hackensack Main Street Alliance Executive Director Patrice Foresman.

Meanwhile, crowds flocked to a reopened shore over the weekend. In places like Seaside Heights and Ocean City, time lapse webcam video shows packed boardwalks. Drone video follows a line of people waiting to buy Belmar beach tags. One epidemiologist called it quarantine fatigue.

“People weren’t distancing, and not surprisingly, because it was warm, weren’t wearing masks,” said Stefanie Silvestri, professor of public health at Montclair State University. “You know, I saw people gathering as if the virus was gone or the virus never happened. And I think the concern is that we’re going to see an uptick.”

“It’s like trying to hold the ocean back. The people are cooped up, they want to get out, they want to come down to the boardwalk,” said Belmar Mayor Mark Walsifer.

Monmouth County officials called a news conference to emphasize that they’re building a website listing safety rules and policing the beaches.

“People can be outside. If people do things right, they can social distance away from each other, be with their family members and be outside and get fresh air. It’s been a tough time, economically, health and safety wise and mentally,” said Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone.

But some protesters worried about reopening the shore too soon.

“The focus on continued profits, rather than the safety of year-round residents, most especially,” said Belmar resident Alexis Finch.

Remember there’s a lag time after infections; it could up to three weeks for the worst COVID-19 symptoms to show up. So we won’t know the impact of what’s happening today until mid-June.