‘100 mph to zero’

Community life comes to a full stop ... for now

Monroe /
| 26 Mar 2020 | 11:50

Editor’s note: These stories prepared by writer Nancy Kriz are examples of the many changes, challenges and limitations faced by all of us as COVID-19 restrictions continue to remain in place. More importantly, there’s a lot of positivity. There’s many more stories to be told. What’s happening in your world is important. Tell us about what’s going on by emailing us at: editor.pn@strausnews.com

‘It’s so eerie, to have my store empty. It’s so eerie.’

One-pound buttery garlic knots - stuffed with mozzarella - sounds pretty good right now, doesn’t it?

You get can get them fresh and hot at Planet Pizza in Monroe. This new takeout item is the brainchild of owners Dave and Nick Barile who, like other area eateries, are finding creative ways remind their customers they’re open for business.

“We’re surviving,” said Dave Barile. “Last week, our business was down 35 percent, which is huge. We’re hoping this week will be better. But, I don’t know. It seems like this will go on for a while.”

Barile said he’s grateful to have a steady stream of customers.

“People are coming in, some even with gloves and masks, we’re happy to see that,” he said. “We have people who are uncertain about what’s going to happen in the next two weeks. Everybody has been coming in and has been so thankful for us. I can really see the people want to support us. The tips jars are fill every night for my staff. You can see people are trying to be more responsive to us, striking up a conversation, asking us how we are holding up.”

While Barile admits he doesn’t normally promote the restaurant, he’s going back to his semi-dormant Facebook page to remind customers to stop by. Earlier this week, he posted a couple photos of the newly invented garlic knots.

“It was a big hit today,” he said. “We’re not big social media users or advertisers, but now we’re scrambling to get people’s attention. I put it (photos) on Facebook and it opened a lot of eyes. Most people are not eating healthy now. That’s what happens when you’re nervous.”

Barile said he knows eateries who’ve always had takeout service are in a better position than those who don’t.

“We do have the edge, as opposed to normal sit down restaurants who don’t offer take out or delivery,” he said. “It’s so eerie, to have my store empty. It’s so eerie.”

Barile stressed he felt it was important for the community to support local businesses, if they can, during this extended closure time.

“Small businesses don’t last without support,” he said. “The only thing I can tell you is if you want us to be here when this is over, we’d love you to continue to support us now. In 21 years, we’ve never laid off anybody and I want to continue that. We’re lucky to have a good customer base and people who want to support us. They’ve been awesome.”

‘Stay positive’

The spring of a student’s high school senior year is filled with many culminating events: Declaring one’s college/university choice, prom (and “the dress”), graduation and much more.

Never part of those traditions was an unexpected extended school closure - currently through March 31 - which has created significant stress for students, parents, school administrators and teachers all trying to cope while waiting for state officials to determine next steps.

“It’s upsetting to me, and sad, about the uncertainty of our senior year, especially our prom and gradation,” said senior Emma Katzman, who will attend Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa., in the fall.

“The high school’s been good about keeping everyone up-to-date,” Katzman said. “Teachers have Google classroom assignments. They’ve been very good about communication with us and giving us positive messages. Some are even sending videos they’ve made for their students.”

Senior Jenna Sommerlad felt similarly.

“I just feel it’s hard for a lot of seniors,” she said. “Everyone was saying senior year will be the best. Everyone was excited for their last season of sports. The play I’m in is postponed, and we don’t know anything more about it, at the moment, because we only have the rights for it for that weekend. The softball team is really good. Sections and states ... this was supposed to be a really good year for them, but now it’s cut short.”

Sommerlad also said her teachers have been consistent in their outreach.

“My teachers have all reached out to me,” she said. “We use Google classrooms. They’re not allowed to teach new material, so they send review stuff which is helpful.”

Katzman said she’s keeping busy by doing her school work, working out, reading and staying in touch with friends through FaceTime and texting.

“We’re not in school and I never thought I’d be saying I miss school, but I do," she said. "It’s sad, especially because it’s our senior year and all the things that come with senior year.”

Sommerlad, who is deciding between the University of Delaware, Penn State and James Madison University (JMU), is frustrated that she can’t visit JMU this spring to help her with her final decision making. She felt other seniors were in similar positions, with the stress of knowing May 1 - when admitted applicants must indicate they’re enrolling in their chosen schools in order to have their spots reserved - is fast approaching.

She’s following the advice of her parents (both teachers), who remind her to stay on top of her work, stay focused and don’t sit around all day doing nothing.

Katzman said she’s sticking to her parents’ advice “to stay positive and make sure to look at the bright side of things right now until everything gets figured out.”

What’s Katzman’s teachable moment?

“Never to take anything for granted is the biggest thing for me,” said Katzman. “Going to school, play rehearsal, dance, things I do repeatedly, every day, you don’t realize that you miss it until you can’t do it. But, this (the virus) shows the importance of keeping everyone healthy and supporting each other. That’s really nice to see.”

Sommerlad has her own teachable moment, too.

“I learned personally you can’t take things for granted,” she said. “You must appreciate the small things because once they’re gone and taken from you, you don’t realize what’s not there until it’s gone. Senior year is going to be cut short. I hope seniors will appreciate school so much more. I miss school and it’s only been a week.”

She added: “To all the freshmen, sophomores and juniors, appreciate everything in school, even the hard challenges. Appreciate the times you have with your classmates, because these years are short already and you never know what could get in the way to shorten them further.”

'Just remember us mom and poppers'

Florists, like Flowers by David Anthony in Highland Mills, fall into the category of non-essential services.

But that hasn’t stopped owner David Recine from finding a way to keep some business operations going.

“We’re not open for retail, but we’re taking orders for delivery,” he said. “People who want to have flowers delivered should give us a day’s notice. We’re still able to purchase flowers, we buy a lot direct from South America. They ship via UPS right to our store. Some shipments are getting a little wonky but right now, we have no issues.”

Recine is also getting flowers from suppliers who have curbside pickup in place.

“They’re open but you have to email the order in, and they have it waiting,” Recine said. “There’s no personal contact.”

The events side of Recine’s business - the weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, christenings and more - amount to 60 percent of his work. And, that’s tanked due to mostly postponements with a sprinkling of cancellations.

“Up to yesterday (March 23), we’ve had 14 weddings postponed, two weddings canceled, three parties canceled and a christening and bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah canceled,” he said. “How many postponements can we handle? I don’t know. There’s quite a few June weddings and I don’t yet know what those June brides are thinking. My feeling is 2021 is going to be a super busy wedding year.”

The tricky thing, Recine explained, is that catering halls are giving their customers options for new dates. Then, they come to him asking if the date works for him. Right now, he’s been able to accommodate everyone.

Sympathy flowers amount to 25 percent of Recine’s business and that’s dropped also.

“While that aspect of the world will never change, I’m finding a lot of people are doing direct burials and planning for celebrations of life for the summer,” he said. “That’s affecting us dramatically.”

But, a silver lining is that consultations have skyrocketed.

“It’s kind of cool through Zoom or FaceTime or the old fashioned telephone to talk and plan,” he said. “People are working from home and are more flexible. They want to chat. It’s kind of fun. Before, they were busier and didn’t spend a lot of time on the phone. Now, we’re finding they want to get into more specific details.”

Recine stressed that small businesses are the backbone of local communities.

“I’d like to add when this is all over, I think it would be great for people to realize that they can help small businesses by shopping local and purchasing from them more than they did in the past just to give them that little boost to help them out,” he said. ‘The big box stores, they will be fine. Just remember us ‘mom and poppers.’”

'For however long this goes'

With approximately 300 students ranging from pre-school age to high school seniors, Terpsichore the Dancerschool in Monroe is looking to meet the needs of its students while hoping parents continue to follow-through with tuition payments.

“The toughest part is not being able to hold classes but still expecting parents to pay tuition,” said Studio Manager Denise Carter. “None of our plans have changed, for the moment. We’re following government authorities.”

Terpsichore, like others, is using social media to keep students engaged. Last week, the school started offers some classes via Instagram, to the delight of participating students.

“Bigger dance studios in the country immediately went to offer live dance classes,” said Carter. “(Instructor) Jen Ferrantelli put this out there to us: ‘I’d love to offer these classes, who would like to host?’ A couple people stepped up and are doing it. It’s gotten great feedback, and it’s kept the girls busy and motivated and moving. I was talking to one mom and she was reporting her daughter was in a rut and upset that life went from 100 mph to zero. It really wasn’t till Claire (Deane) had that live ballet class that she started moving again.”

The school remains committed to finding ways to make up for the lost in-studio dance time, possibly considering Sunday classes, as an example, to be ready for its annual recital at the end of May. Currently, that date hasn’t changed either.

“I would say if the closure needs to go on longer than this two-week period, we hope all our families stick by us, for however long this goes,” added Carter. “If they want Terpsichore to be here when things go back to normal, please support us during this time.”

'Things will return to normal'

As a computer science major from Monroe, University of Buffalo freshman Jason Bieger may be better prepared to handle online courses than some non-computer science students when it became clear the spring semester was done deal for all.

“A lot of people students on campus were not big fans of this,” said Bieger. “I tried to keep an open mind, that it would be a different experience working online. Being a computer science major, it might not be so different for me than others. Most of my work is already done via computer.”

For example, one of this professors already streamed his lectures when the university was in session via a platform called Twitch, so he was already accustomed to an online experience. He expected others would be, too.

“Now that everything is online, you can plan your time and not worry about travel across campus,” said Bieger. “But, just because it’s online doesn’t mean the classes get any slower. If anything, it feels like they go a little faster because the teachers are trying to compress their lectures into half hour videos. It can be a bit difficult to keep up, but it does keep you engaged more. They’re always moving to new topics. I know there are some college students having trouble with keeping up with understanding what to do. Know you’re not alone. There’s entire universities of students who are in the same boat as you.”

What is different for him, and probably most college students, is being back home much earlier than expected and readjusting to a “new” home environment.

“It did feel weird,” Bieger said. “My first week back was the week of spring break. After living on my own, to come home to three people and a dog, it was a bit strange. And not only that, but you can’t go out, either.”

But, Bieger stressed, a healthy outlook is everything.

“I’m reminded that things happen,” he said. “You obviously can’t control everything in life that happens you. We have to be able to adapt and change. Success isn’t just about being good at something, but how you have to change to address the things that happen. The willingness and the ability to adapt is really important in life now.”

Bieger knows his situation is radically different from college seniors, many who have to finish their online studies knowing commencement ceremonies are canceled.

“The graduations they dreamed of, it’s not happening,” he said. “I know some high school seniors who are wondering the same thing.”

Still, Bieger said he’s reminding himself of one important thing.

“As bad as this seems,” he added, “things will return to normal.”

'Appreciate all the good things'

Although his practice falls into the category of essential services, Dr. Daniel Newman, owner of Newman Chiropractic in Monroe, closed his office on March 20 for a two-week period. He’ll re-evaluate after that time.

“During the last couple of weeks, I’ve been treating patients following all the proper and required precautions,” said Newman, who’s been in practice for the last 25 years. Newman Chiropractic actually opened 37 years ago when his late father opened the business.

“I have hundreds of people who count on me for care for their chiropractic conditions,” he said. “When I told them I would be closing, I had a lot of patients who were upset, but everybody understood. Like every health care practitioner, we have to and we will put safety first. We’re doing the best thing to flatten this curve.”

Newman has given his patients home care activities to do pending their return to office visits, does telephone consultations and provided a number to call him if they have any emergencies.

“The most important thing I’m concerned with is that my patients aren’t getting the care they need,” he said. “Secondly, I’m also concerned about my staff not working and not getting paid. And frankly, like everyone else, I’m not working. I’ve got bills to pay, too. The effects of this will hurt big and small businesses. Think of the small businesses that won’t be back. Patronize your small businesses.”

But, Newman reminds others of the importance of keeping perspective.

“Here’s my 10 cents,” he said. “I think if we all did this and listened to the people who are telling us to stay home and off the roads, this will flatten the curve and get us back to normal. What gets me angry is seeing people at the parks or on the beach or congregating. These things are just hindering the process of getting our country back to normal. Stay home with your family, get your home projects done, appreciate everything you didn’t before this. It’s amazing how much you appreciate all the good things when they’re taken away from you temporarily.”

'Safe, active and healthy'

There was profound, but understandable, sadness at the South Orange Family YMCA last week when the governor’s order for all fitness facilities to close went into effect.

“It was very sad and surreal,” said Branch Manager Ellen Beadle. “I cried on my way out. I was the last person out. “

Beadle said there were two hard things to do of equal importance. The first was having to layoff part-time people.

“They were unhappy, but understood it was obviously temporary,” Beadle said. “The second was to close the doors to our members. We hope that they’re safe and healthy. As soon as this mandate is lifted, we can’t wait to open and have them all back. We miss them as well.”

For now, the Y’s small remaining staff has been reaching out to its membership, particularly its seniors, making sure they’re okay. The Y has also calling members asking them to continue to support the Y.

“By sustaining their memberships, this allows us to continue to do our charitable mission,” Beadle added.

During this past week, Beadle said, the Middletown Y has opened three childcare sites to help health professionals, emergency responders and essential workers have childcare options. Those sites are in Middletown at its Liberty Street location and, as of this past Tuesday, at sites on the Florida and Minisink Valley school district campuses.

“Even though we shut our doors, we’re trying to help the community in any way we can,” she said.

Additionally, staff is looking to keep members engaged.

“Our staff instructors have been making videos of their classes, including live videos,” said Beadle. “Some are using ‘House Party,’ where they engage people while instructing. One is doing outdoor, backyard workouts. We have workouts based on the letters of the alphabet. We’re using YouTube and Facebook Live.”

Happily, Beadle said, members are keeping their memberships active, which she feels is a testament to the services the Y offers them.

“It’s just amazing just how much they miss us and can’t wait to get back to us,” Beadle said. “They say we are like their second family. Not only do we want our members to remain safe and healthy, we want them to remain active and keep their healthy lifestyles going. We hope they’re spending some great time with their families, making lemonade out of lemons.”