Employees at Digger's Ales and Eats today at the restaurant's empty bar. The owner said business has been off more than 65% in the past week — before the mandatory shutdown. Photo: Peter Blasl

Local business owners find themselves attempting to navigate a bewildering new reality under rules announced by the governor today intended to help curb the spread of coronavirus in the community.

Especially hard hit are restaurants and bars, which cannot serve patrons on premises after 8 p.m. tonight until further notice. Restaurants can offer takeout and delivery service only.

“It’s just devastating,” said Steve Wirth, owner of Digger’s Ales & Eats on West Main Street.

Wirth said his business began to see a drastic drop-off last week, “once everybody started having reservations about being in public spaces.” His business fell by more than 65% beginning last Wednesday, Wirth said this morning, shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the new restrictions in a press briefing.

For Wirth, the timing of the outbreak — and the restrictions —could not be worse.

“You gotta be kidding me,” the stunned and dejected proprietor said this morning. “That’s the end of me.”

The week of St. Patrick’s Day is “the biggest week we have,” he said. That includes the weekend before and the weekend after the holiday, when the popular downtown Irish pub is usually jam-packed with revelers.

“This is the week we make up the debt” the business incurs to stay afloat through the lean winter months, Wirth explained. “All of that has been wiped away.”

Two large parties canceled in the past week and he’s left with bills to pay for product he can’t sell.

Wirth, who has owned Digger’s since 2005, has 25 full-time and 15 part-time employees.

He said he thinks the restrictions imposed by the state in reaction to outbreak are over the top. “They have made this into something so beyond — it’s absurd,” Wirth said.

Wirth now has to figure out how to make a takeout and delivery business support overhead and payroll. Wirth said he’s not optimistic.

Digger’s is offering curbside pickup, as are Cliff’s Rendezvous, Sunny’s Riverhead Diner and Grill, Jerry’s and the Mermaid, Dark Horse Restaurant and Tweed’s Restaurant and Buffalo Bar.

While bars will be shuttered as of this evening, the State Liquor Authority would be issuing new rules to allow carry-out alcohol, Cuomo said.

Some local wineries will be open for to-go bottle sales only, according to the L.I. Wind Council. Others have chosen to close altogether while the outbreak continues.

Theaters, gyms and casinos were also ordered shuttered, effective 8 p.m. tonight.

Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi said the theater decided to close this weekend, before the governor’s announcement.

“We’ve been dead,” Castaldi said. “We canceled everything this weekend. We decided to close down.”

“We’ll see for how long,” he said. “If everybody has to hunker down for two weeks to get rid of this, then that’s what we have to do.”

The theater is re-booking performances for later dates, Castaldi said.

Maximus Health and Fitness on East Main Street said in an email to members the gym hopes to re-open on April 1. The locally owned gym plans to issue credits to active accounts at the end of the month, it said.

Planet Fitness is using Facebook Live to offer free home workout sessions beginning this evening at 7 p.m. The 20-minute sessions will feature Planet Fitness trainers and “some surprise celebrity guests,” the company said. “Let’s work out through this. United We Move.”

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have limited gatherings of any kind to 50 people or less.

Facing such restrictions, other local event venues have decided to close their doors, such as the Long Island Aquarium, which is closed until further notice.

Hundreds of people will be out of work as a result of the closures. The state has lifted the waiting period for unemployment claims. The volume of people attempting to file claims today crashed the N.Y. State Labor Department’s website today. A department spokesperson told the New York Times the agency had received 8,758 calls by noon, more than triple what it got last Monday. 

The website where businesses can apply for Small Business Administration disaster loans also crashed today, the Associated Press reported.

“We’re definitely behind the eight-ball.” Riverhead Chamber of Commerce president Robert Kern said today.

Kern said the U.S. “should have learned from China.” Actions taken in China in response to coronavirus seemed “draconian,” Kern said. “But seeing what was happening in Europe, we should have acted so much faster.”

Editor’s Note: A previously published version of this article misstated that All-Star Bowling will be closed for two weeks. The bowling alley has reduced its hours but plans to remain open, with an updated schedule available on their Facebook page.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.