One step forward? Biz challenges remain as COVID rules relaxed

Mckenzie Delisle, The Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
·5 min read

May 4—PLATTSBURGH — As sweet as it was to hear the governor relax some COVID restrictions, several area business owners say their operations will be barely, if at all, affected.

That was the case for Rhonda Dergham-Titherington's mall-based hair salon DND Unisex.

While adjusted New York State guidelines will soon put an end to salon capacity limits, to increase this Friday from 50 to 75 percent, in favor of maintaining six feet of social distance between patrons, Dergham-Titherington said her salon will not be able to service any more clients than it was already.

"I think it's wonderful in a way, like, we're sort of moving forward and it gives me hope for our economy and for other businesses — I'm very happy for them," she said Monday. "Unfortunately, it still keeps us in the 50 percent range, because of the square footage that we have.

"If we're still at that six feet of social distancing, which they're saying that we are, we can't increase our business anymore; even when they make it 75 percent, it still keeps us at 50 percent."


George Munson, owner of fellow Plattsburgh-based salon Visual Changes, said business at his South Catherine Street location would likely be unaffected by the change, as well.

"The occupancy isn't going to make any difference for us," he said. "Even if all of the girls that are there work at the same time and had one customer in their chair — we wouldn't be beyond the number that we could have for our square footage.

"For us, changing that doesn't make much of a difference."

While it might allow clients or family members to wait in a seating area rather in their vehicles, Munson didn't think many would take advantage.

"I don't think clients or the public are going to feel comfortable with that," he said. "I think human nature for us now is to not want to be in an environment with people, waiting. I don't think they would stray from what the norm has been for the last year."


Dergham-Titherington said more impactful adjustments for her salon would be eliminating the social distancing requirement and the continued upped unemployment benefits, which were increased at the height of the pandemic when many Americans were losing their jobs.

"I can't get anyone to work," the salon owner said. "They're making more at home, so they don't have to. It's really difficult. I'm not speaking on behalf of everyone, but there are quite a few people who are healthy enough to be going to work, but are taking the easy way out."

Munson said his salon already maintained six feet between salon chairs, so removing that social distancing requirement wouldn't help or hurt Visual Changes.

A big challenge for his six independent contractors was the mask mandate.

"We're working around hair and around the ears," he said. "But I think in this environment it's best to be protected. I think the benefits outweigh the uncomfortableness, the benefits of wearing them is a better tradeoff still."


Salons aren't the only commercial industry to be affected by the state's latest changes. Beginning Wednesday, May 19, capacity limits for salons and barbershops, as well as retailers, food services, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment centers will all go away.

Terry Meron, who owns the cluster of businesses at the Comfort Inn and Suites in the Town of Plattsburgh, has often said he operates "the perfect storm" of COVID-impacted businesses.

Meron said Monday, given the continued six feet of social distancing, that Perkins Restaurant and Bakery and Plattsburgh Brewing Company would likely be unaffected by the incoming changes.

As an example, he said Perkins already seated its guests every other booth and, even with capacity limits lifted, the restaurant would still do so to maintain proper social distancing.

"So that won't be much of an increase over where we are now," he said. "It's not going to impact us from that respect."

The property owner noted that the state's recent removal of its no-alcohol-without-food rule had been a bigger win for his brewpub.

Anthony's Restaurant and Bistro Owner and Executive Chef Scott Murray had a similar takeaway, saying his Route 3 operation would not up its service despite the changes later this month.

"We have such a large seating space anyway," he said, noting both the bistro and dining room areas. "We've actually been really comfortable with our seating and the fact that the public likes to know that we're doing the right thing.

"We aren't planning on adding any more seating capacity until everything is completely in the rear view mirror."


News that capacity limits would be abolished for Meron's family entertainment center Champy's Fun City and gym Eclipse Fitness was long awaited and welcomed by the property owner.

He believed both industries had fairly strict capacity limits, set at 33 percent for family entertainment centers and 25 percent for gyms and fitness centers, and said the coming change would allow for more patrons at both businesses.

"That's very, very welcomed," Meron said.


Large-scale venue capacity limits would be adjusted later this month, as well, increasing indoor events to 30 percent capacity and outdoor ones to 33 percent capacity.

Social gathering limits, 500 people outdoors and 250 people indoors, could be exceeded so long as required social distancing was accommodated and masks and other health protocols were followed.

This will impact catered receptions, like weddings and proms, both of which Brannoin Sample of Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall in Altona said were scheduled for this spring.

"This is very exciting news," Sample said Monday. "It will help make up for some of the losses from last year and brides will certainly be happy to have their families and loved ones be able to celebrate on their special day.

"As a place that hosts large gatherings of people, I'm still a little cautious with the fact that I'm assembling large crowds of people," he continued. "However, with the vaccinations and people continuing to get vaccinated, that just makes a business like mine feel a bit better about doing the celebrations that we do."

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