East Hampton business representatives on Tuesday slammed the decision of the East Hampton Town Board to ask Governor Andrew Cuomo to prohibit motels from reopening, despite the fact that they have been listed as essential businesses since March when the governor first ordered wholesale economic shutdowns in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Paul Monte, the president of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the town’s business recovery committee, said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session that members of the latter group were “dumbfounded” by the town’s request, which was announced through a press release on Monday.
“To be blindsided like this without any advanced warning, and to take this issue to the press before the governor has even responded, to me, was very irresponsible,” he said. “And the result could be far reaching for businesses in the community as well as workers in the community.”
He said motels rely on a short and fickle tourist season for their revenue and forcing them to remain closed for part of that season could jeopardize their very existence.
“We’re not so much asking the hotels to be closed for the season,” responded Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “We’re asking they be phased in at an appropriate time so as we move forward, we don’t get ahead of ourselves and see a surge that stresses our healthcare system.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc said East Hampton has thus far been fortunate that the community has cooperated with requests that people stay home and avoid unnecessary public contact.
“We know everyone is under pressure to get up and running as soon as they can, but we cannot sacrifice public health,” he said. “This weekend is going to be a test for us in terms of how we manage social distancing. I hope everybody realizes this is not a time to come out and party, because nobody wants to go through another two months of shelter in place.”
Larry Seidlick, the owner of the Montauk Beach House, said many motels had taken government loans that require them to bring back workers. Preventing them from reopening forces them to lay those employees off, he said.
East Hampton businessman Bob Schepps said keeping any businesses closed could backfire. “If we don’t have a summer, we won’t have a winter,” he said, adding that customers should be allowed to make their own decisions.
Tim Brennan, the owner of a women’s clothing store, said the season is short. “We’re drowning,” he said. “All we’re asking for is to be given some reasonable guidelines that we can open the store with safety measures in place.”
“I need to make some money,” he added, “or forget about next winter. I won’t be here in August.”
Steve Kalimnios, owner of the Royal Atlantic motel, said he, too, wanted to “voice disappointment in how the letter was handled,” adding it was important to keep the channels of communication between government and business open as the town tries to recover from the abrupt shutdown.
Mr. Van Scoyoc apologized for what he called “a bumbled effort” to obtain better guidance from the governor’s office.
He said the town recognized the important role hotels, restaurants, and shops play and that it was considering ways to temporarily ease zoning restrictions and take other measures to help businesses recover.
“We’re trying to walk a very fine line,” he said. “This is not going to be easy for anyone, no matter what we do. It’s about finding a delicate balance between getting back to normalcy and letting this explode again.”
With reporting by Michael Wright.