Business owners are elated that COVID restrictions have been lifted.Photo: Adobe Stock

Now that 70% of adult New Yorkers are vaccinated, and the governor has lifted most COVID-19 restrictions, Riverhead business owners and community leaders are welcoming the anticipated change with open arms.

“I think everyone’s been anxiously watching and waiting as these changes have been made, and we caught wind that this might be happening and it’s great to finally see it come to fruition,” Business Improvement District President Steve Shauger said. “We can finally get back to normal.”

The state removed several restrictions, including capacity limits, health screenings, social distancing and information for contact tracing. Shauger said that the eliminations of restrictions for social gatherings will be a welcome change to outdoor events, like Alive on 25. The first Alive on 25 event this year will be on July 1 from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. 

Riverhead Chamber of Commerce President Bob Kern said that he is excited for what the lifted restrictions mean for how the town’s businesses can operate. “I think it’s late — but better late than never,” he said.

Although Kern said he’s happy the restrictions are gone, he hopes that restaurants will be allowed to keep outdoor seating to recover from the pandemic’s negative impact on the industry.

“You can’t make up your losses with your existing capacity,” Kern said. “Having increased capacity with outdoor seating over the next couple of years will help them recover.”

Jerry DiCecco of Jerry and the Mermaid in downtown Riverhead, said he’s very excited that businesses will be able to operate at full capacity. ”It’s been a long road but it seems like we’re there now,” he said. 

DiCecco said he won’t be adding many tables inside just yet, as he wants his customers to feel comfortable and enjoy the nice weather outdoors. He is also glad that the restaurant will be able to seat large parties of guests.

“It’s been a scary 14 months,” said Lucharitos owner Marc LaMaina. “We are excited to get back to a bit of the old normal,” he said.

“We have never seen this kind of busy so early in the season,” said the restaurant owner, who operates Lucharitos locations in Aquebogue, Mattituck, Center Moriches and Greenport. “But it also has never been harder to operate a small business. From staffing to price increases to lead times… it’s a mess. But like usual we will all put our best out.”

Steve Wirth, the owner of Digger’s Ales N’ Eats on West Main Street, said he didn’t expect restrictions lifted before July 4. He hopes the announcement means people are more confident going out to bars and restaurants.

“I think bigger than the restrictions is the public opinion, people feeling safe and comfortable going back out into the world again,” Wirth said. “What I’ve seen is every time the language changes or the government says we can do a little more, more people tend to feel more comfortable with going out. That’s a good thing.”

Wirth said that although the restrictions are lifted, his business, like many others, is still struggling in terms of finding workers to meet rising demand post-pandemic. 

Kareem Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards and president of the Long Island Wine Council, said social distancing requirements have made it hard for wineries with small tasting rooms function and for those who host events to be able to hold larger events. He welcomed the return to normal and hopes it will help the region’s wineries get back to business.

“It’s a cause for celebration. If people want to come to our wineries and buy some sparkling wines to celebrate, we have them,” he said.

Nick Cascio, the co-owner of Giorgio’s Premier Catering in Baiting Hollow, said that lifting restrictions, especially the capacity limits, will open up the opportunity for catering halls to be able to guarantee larger events.

“If the governor feels it’s safe, based on the scientific data that he has, that makes us happy and makes us able to operate easier,” Cascio said.

Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi said the restrictions being lifted will allow his business to better operate at full capacity, which he said is “essential.”

“Booking acts remains really tough,” Castaldi said. “Every state has different rules. The acts are having difficulty planning their tours.” And, like other businesses, the theater is also having difficulty staffing up.

The theater recently announced it would open its doors again Aug. 27. “We kind of rolled the dice with that,” not knowing whether the theater would be able to go to 100% capacity before the opening date. “Fortunately, it’s worked out,” he said. “We can’t wait.

Denise Civiletti contributed reporting.

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Alek Lewis
Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.