Hamptons Businesses on Looking Back, Moving Ahead, Saying Thanks

Photo: Barbara Lassen

Restaurants and wineries. Arts institutions and home improvement companies. Local government and nonprofit groups. Every single individual, business and organization on the East End has been touched and affected by COVID-19 in some way, and everyone has had to adapt throughout what has been a summer like no other in the Hamptons and on the North Fork. East End leaders, businesses owners and community members look back on this unprecedented season and year, reflect on how their lives have changed and what they see for the future, and give thanks to those who have worked so hard, and keep working, in order to make a difference.

Our branches and drive-throughs remained open throughout the pandemic. In March, we sent about 200 administrative and support employees home to work remotely. Not only were we able to accomplish our day to day work but also provided $950 Million in SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans to approximately 4,000 Businesses making us the No. 2 PPP lender in Suffolk County and No. 5 on Long Island.

Following all safety guidelines, we were able to bring our employees back to the office in late July, using an A and B Week plan to limit the number of people in the office each week. Gearing up to allow employees to work from home. This included sourcing equipment and setting up secure laptops, virtual phones and using virtual meetings to stay connected. Getting systems in place for the PPP loan process to support our customers and community under tight deadlines while the program was being finalized and changed. As an active participant, about a quarter of the loans we made were to non-customers who struggled to work with their own banks. All teams of the Bank ultimately participated in getting these loans approved, many working remotely. We are worried about the state of the economy in general and the high levels of unemployment. Our marketplace spans the entire length of the island and we are focused on the different challenges faced on the East End and those faced in the five boroughs and communities in between. We are paying particular attention to what restaurants will do once the weather cools and outdoor dining isn’t allowed. Our bankers are in constant contact with their businesses and ready to offer advice and help when needed.

Branches are open normal hours and we are set up with A and B teams for back office teams. We recognize employees dealing with childcare issues due to in school and virtual school combinations and we worry about new flare-ups and have plans in place to deal with both. I’d like to thank and acknowledge our entire team—they didn’t save lives, but they saved businesses! Whether working from home or in the branches, everyone pulled together to help our customers during trying times. The business community who rallied to adjust business models, figure out how to go online, deliver curbside, and reach customers in new ways. Local governments for being flexible enough to collaborate with towns and villages to create outdoor dining options, allowing restaurants to stay afloat. Greenport allowed small, parklike dining to flourish and has become a model for other areas. The hope the collaboration we’re seeing continues in the future as challenges still exist. We are supportive of small to mid-sized businesses and want to keep working with them so we all succeed.
—Kevin O’Connor, President & CEO, BNB Bank

East End Tick Control has been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, implementing changes to protect our employees and clients alike by installing air purifiers in our offices, practicing social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing our offices and equipment on a regular basis. We will continue to make whatever changes are needed, as the pandemic evolves so we can continue to protect our clients from tick borne diseases.
Brian Kelly, Owner, East End Tick & Mosquito Control and Twin Forks Pest Control

In March, Calissa chose to remain open, lower prices and expand delivery from Hampton Bays to Montauk. We made a commitment to our colleagues, customers and community at a time of greater uncertainty when most restaurants chose to close. Months later, people and local organizations (501(c)3 & municipal) remember that decision. So, we get by, as the Beatles said, “with a little help from our friends.” Practically speaking, we used our loans and reserve to add outdoor seating, open the Jimmy’s gyro truck and our Bazaar in partnership with Chateau D’Esclans, Caravana and Cascun Farms.
James Mallios, Calissa

Firstly, I am heartbroken about how many people have suffered, how many businesses have been adversely impacted and how much hard work has been negated so quickly. But we must roll on, and when looking at the glass half full, there is a whole new world of opportunity out there now—new potential business ideas and models, increased business in some sectors and new needs that didn’t even exist before. I think the most important thing that has come out of this pandemic in terms of business is a sort of “reset” that has forced people to rethink the way they operate. For me, the meetings that I used to have, both in my professional role as a consultant and in my role in government, have turned into Zoom meetings, phone calls and my favorite, emails and texts. I would go so far to say that my productivity and efficiency have improved greatly.

I do miss the socialization aspect of my work, but I think that the most important word in business today is adaptation. So my experience has been one of constant adaptation—when I do meet people in person now, it’s just different. And that’s okay. We’ve seen many hardships before between market crashes, bank collapses, wars, terrorist attacks and so on and they all present different challenges.

This pandemic, though, has hurt businesses in unprecedented ways, and has affected businesses that were formerly considered untouchable. Commercial real estate in NYC. The gaming industry. Restaurants. Retail giants. The music and arts industries. Airlines. Resorts and cruise lines. Who would have ever thought? I consider myself very fortunate in that the adaptations that I needed to implement were relatively easy. We all need to adapt, but some people will have a much harder time doing that than others. It’s an entirely new business world, with both opportunities and challenges.
—Brian Tymann, President, BGT Consulting, LLC, Trustee, Westhampton Beach Village

There really wasn’t anything I could do for my business until late May–early June when graduation parties and drive-in graduations were becoming a quick fix for the itch to do live sound. Once things got warmer and the status of New York’s phases kept changing, venues began to hire acoustic acts for their weekend entertainment instead of full bands. While I enjoy the work, I do miss doing sound for wedding bands and park shows on the regular. This year was going to be easily twice as good as last year and last year was a fantastic year for my business.

The greatest challenge I faced was figuring out which regular summer accounts wanted to put on concerts but with social distancing in mind. I work with Southampton Town doing live sound for their Good Ground Park shows regularly, and we had two drive-in concerts planned for Ponquogue. One of them was with one of my favorite local cover bands, Mean Machine. The show was canceled once the drama at Water Mill with the Chainsmokers happened. Mean Machine and I were extremely bummed out by the cancelation but understand the caution.

As the summer season closes, things are looking not so good for musicians and small production businesses alike. While on one hand, backyard weddings are more and more a norm, venues and bars are only going to have a harder time with their business as the temperature drops, which in turn then affects our business. I’m doing my best to try to find work wherever I can. Personally, myself and many optimists thought this was going to be over by July. Here’s hoping for 2021.
—Daniel Taylor, Owner, Dan the Soundman Taylor

This new reality has created a new culture with new ideas about how people do business and interact with one another—in a way it’s like seatbelts, at first people didn’t want to deal with them, then they proved to save lives, and now everyone wears one without thinking. I’ve made a lot of changes to the way that Unlimited Earth Care does business to keep my employees and clients as safe as possible: my crew is tested, they wear masks and gloves, and in the showroom we limit the number of people inside, and keep a distance of even more than 6 feet between people waiting outside. I’m perfectly comfortable wearing a mask if wearing one means we’re caring for and protecting each other, I’m all for it. No one knows how long we’re going to be doing this, so I had to come up with a system that’s sustainable for my business. Little by little these things will all feel more natural, it’s the new way to be in society.

The Hamptons has changed, people came out in March and many of them aren’t leaving this fall, it’s almost no longer a resort community this year. Many of my clients are going to be experiencing their gardens in the fall for the first time. I had clients who I planted cherry trees for 20 years ago calling me to say this is the first year they’ve been able to enjoy the blooms. People are finding they have the time to take an interest in their gardens—they’re calling me all the time to ask questions and learn.

Everyone’s noticing how vital their natural spaces are during this new reality. My gardens have become their spaces to relax, to work, and even to learn a new skill—I’ve been getting so many requests for edible gardens. I created a flexible design that can work for different clients: a raised bed in a handcart in manageable sizes (6×6, 8×8, 12×12) with casters, so they can be moved around on wheels to the patio, or even next to the BBQ to have fresh herbs and veggies on hand for cooking.

Something positive that’s come from all of this is that I’ve become closer to my clients than ever, I feel more a part of their everyday lives now, it’s been wonderful.
—Frederico Azevedo, Owner, Unlimited Earth Care

As both an aesthetician and a performer my world as a working professional has completely changed and turned upside down. Work had pretty much come to a screeching halt for me as a professional, first as an esthetician and now most recently as a live performer. While I am still able to host my live virtual show every week, Naomi’s Nifty Neighborhood, that is just a passion project that is done out of pocket. If I’m lucky, viewers will tip during the broadcast. It’s definitely not a way to sustain a living, but it’s artistically fulfilling nonetheless. I had to think quickly back in March when everything started and turned to the digital platform to supplement some kind of income using my skills as a performer, since my day job as an esthetician was off the table.

The state has prohibited facial treatments, along with any treatment that involves a client lowering their mask, which has completely halted my skin care business from continuing. I haven’t been able to work on any of my clients since early March. Most recently the state has prohibited ticketed and cover charged live performances, which knocked out another form of income for me. It’s extremely frustrating when we are trying to keep the arts alive, give the healing power of performance, music and live theatre, while following all safety guidelines but are shut down due to others mistakes and stupid decisions. To me it’s asinine to ban musicians, performers, comedians, etc, if guidelines, social distancing and the new capacity limits being followed. It’s bringing added revenue and allowing the artists the opportunity to be able to support themselves. So many industries have been able to open back up or be supported in the phased openings but us in the entertainment industry have yet again gotten the short straw. In a way it feels like this is turning into some weird sequel to Footloose.

This whole process, for me, has been about adapting and adjusting to the punches as they come. I feel like having to reinvent and reinvent again. I plan to continue to broadcast my virtual show, Naomi’s Nifty Neighborhood, every Wednesday at 8:30pm. I have also decided to go back to school starting in the fall semester to work towards a career in Psychology. Thinking realistically, the future of both of my industries are very up in the air in terms of the solidity. I decided to start pursuing this education journey since goodness knows this world can always use more assistance in mental health and wellness. It in no way means I’ll be abandoning my skin care business or performing though. My passion and soul lives in my art.
—Robert Kohnken, Owner, RCK Skin and Hamptons, drag performer (Naomi and Aunt Barb)

At Wölffer, we’ve done our best to serve and excite our clients during the pandemic through virtual events, outdoor social distanced tastings, and introducing new products. We’ve been lucky enough to keep our dedicated team and give back to the local hospital. It’s the Wölffer team, my fashion team, loving family and dear friends that keep me moving forward!
—Joey Wölffer, Co-Owner, Wölffer Estate Vineyard

This has been an unprecedented year to say the least. At Egress Pros, we understand how important it is, especially now, for families to have additional safe living space. For those customers who prefer not to meet in person, but recognize the importance of an egress window system, we are offering customers contactless egress education and estimates. To ensure a safe, comfortable presentation, LI Egress Pros has been utilizing our website and working with clients over the phone to build an egress window system that fits each family’s lifestyle and budget. Prior to our team arriving on site to install an egress window system, our team members have their temperature taken and they wear masks to ensure safety for our customers and team members. During installation our team only needs to enter the home once to layout drop cloths. Once the cloths are in place our team will only enter the home through the new egress access. As a go-forward plan we will continue to offer contactless education and installs. Our customers love it!  As always Egress Pros would like to thank all first responders for putting the community first. We are in the process of donating an egress window to a first responder family. He is a New York firefighter and she is a nurse on the front line, located in Brentwood.
—Randy Goldbaum, Partner, Long Island Egress Pros

This has been an extraordinary six months. Our hearts break for everyone who has lost anyone to COVID-19 and those businesses who have suffered. As an essential service, Stuart’s Seafood Market has been open throughout this challenging time. The spring was extremely stressful as we responded to the sudden jump in population on the East End with an off season, limited staff. We had to adjust our procedures as safety protocols evolved by limiting the number of  customers in the store, wearing masks and adding curbside pickup options. We also expanded our product line to better serve our customers who appreciated more one-stop shopping. We were able to source plenty of baking supplies, fresh produce, dairy, meat, chicken, groceries and, of course, great seafood, when larger stores and online retailers were lacking.

It has been more time consuming, labor-intensive work, but we are grateful for the opportunity to help our community. We have the greatest respect for our health care professionals who have been on the front lines trying to keep everyone healthy! People have been so kind and generous to my staff and my family. Masks can’t hide genuine smiles. I really have to commend my staff for working so hard. They are brave and strong!

Also, with so many other pleasures denied, eating well was an oasis of normalcy, especially in the spring through early summer. There were fewer people obsessing about carbs and diets! We sold lots of bread, cookies, pies, ice cream, etc. comfort food was in high demand.
—Charlotte Sasso, Co-Owner, Stuart’s Seafood Market

Unprecedented times, for sure. We have been in business for 35 years. Thankfully we were able to continue serving the East End throughout these trying times. We were able to stay in touch with our clients with the help of technology. Zoom and FaceTime kept me in our client’s homes and we were able to create ideas in the comfort of their own homes. I would give thanks to my staff—they have stayed committed to excellence throughout. I am especially grateful to John, my installer of over 25 years, who stayed committed to service and safety. At every stage, he figured out a way to stay safe and he was able to service our
clients expeditiously.
—Linda Nuszen, Owner, Windows & Walls Unlimited

We would like to first thank our customers for welcoming us into their homes and entrusting us with their move. Over the past year we have taken every measure to ensure the safety of our customers and crews at each step of the move. As the fall approaches, we will continue to deliver first class service while taking the highest safety precautions. As the busy summer season comes to a close, we would like to give a big thank you to all of our crews and members of our team for working extremely hard to adapt to and navigate these unpredictable times. Lastly, all of us at Despatch of Southampton would like to thank the first responders and healthcare workers for always taking care of our community.
—Caitlin Webers, Owner, Despatch of Southampton

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a crazy situation, to say the least. Hopefully the scientists and doctors will come up with a vaccine in the very near future. First, I would like to thank all of the essential workers that have helped all the people that got the virus and were taken care of. I would also like to thank the employees of Lang Insurance, as they snapped into action instantly. Their agility and willingness to do whatever they had to do to service our clients has been amazing. Lastly, I would like to thank all of our clients for being patient and understanding as working remotely was new to most of us but have found a way to make it work. Our clients have been really great and have been very sensitive knowing that we all are going through this pandemic together. Be safe and stay healthy!
—Kevin Lang, President, Lang Insurance

As a distributor for onsite wastewater treatment systems, AWS was considered an essential service throughout the pandemic. While we were able to keep our doors open, our business was significantly impacted by the construction shutdown earlier this year. Despite the shutdown, we were committed to keeping our employees on payroll and working in a safe environment. We secured and distributed a supply of PPE and hand sanitizer to our employees and implemented a protocol whereby our office staff worked from home and our field crew did not ride together in vehicles, worked independently rather than in pairs and did not enter any job site where safe social distancing was not being maintained. While AWS was considered an “essential” business, we’d like to give thanks to the truly essential workers in our community, in particular the health care workers, first responders, local food pantries, and everyone else who gave selflessly to keep our community running.
—Kevin McGowin, Partner, Advanced Wastewater Solutions

I want to thank William Santiago, executive housekeeper at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, and all of the medical staff, for guiding our community through this unimaginable pandemic. And I would like to thank Anna Lepska, executive housekeeper at Southampton Inn, and all of the housekeeping staff, for their tireless work in maintaining health and safety for employees, hotel guests, and our community, during these challenging times.
—Dede Gotthelf, Owner, Southampton Inn & Claude’s Restaurant

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