Finger Lakes region enters phase three of state rules
YATES COUNTY--Yates County, as part of the Finger Lakes region, was one of the five zones authorized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to enter into Phase 3 of the COVID-19 recovery Friday, June 12. Despite being able to reopen partially indoors, many local businesses are reopening slowly to adjust to the new rules.
"We are doing a soft open to work out the kinks... and we are running through our new tasting format that we have devised to adapt to the new regulations...but it has been great to seat guests and have our wine," said Liz Castner, tasting room manager and member of the family that owns Anthony Road Winery in Penn Yan.
Tabatha Green, manager of the Penn Yan Diner said that customers began coming to eat inside the moment they were allowed to.
"We have been slammed all day long, customers have been excited to be out of their homes and are ready to be sitting down and eating," Green said.
Green remarked she was optimistic that entering into Phase 3 means that the Diner might be able to salvage its summer financially.
"Even with the new normal I think it is possible to salvage our summer because we have a pretty loyal customer base," Green said.
According to state guidelines, Phase 3 allows indoor restaurants, food services and personal care services to resume, though each industry is now subject to specific state-imposed guidelines designed to maximize safety and social distancing.
"We've had the most informed, science-based reopening in the country and as we continue our phased reopening the numbers continue to go down... We've been doing everything right up until now, but we have to stay smart and keep following all the necessary precautions to keep getting those numbers down," Cuomo said in a press release.
In order to adjust to the new regulations, Castner said Anthony Road Winery has devised an entirely new tasting process that greatly limits the contact between customers and employees and maintains distance between different parties.
"We closed for training to get used to the new regulations, and while we did do more webstore sales it hasn't made up for what we lost," Castner said. "It did offset it a bit. That being said we are looking forward to more traffic."
While already having bookings for tasting sessions starting the day Phase 3 began, Castner said it is impossible to know if the summer season can be saved.
Green mentioned it has been difficult to adjust to the new regulations, but said Yates County officials have done a great job communicating to businesses as to what will be expected for them during the reopening.
"Customers have been more than willing to comply with all our rules, and it's not [really] our rules but state rules we have to follow if we want to stay open," Green said.
Along with the recent reopening of camping at the Watkins Glen State Park, local businesses are hoping that entering into Phase 3 signifies the ability to salvage their summers as more tourists come to the area.
"Entering into Phase 3 is very important, we didn't want to hold our breath about that," said Connor Evans, general manager of Castel Grisch Winery in Watkins Glen. "It's hard to know if this will salvage our summer, we are running the numbers in our head but the question is will things get busier?"
Bill Tague, the owner of Jerlando's Pizza in Watkins Glen, said he was cautiously optimistic.
"I am fearful of losing our summer," Tague said. "In Watkins Glen, we really rely on the summer months to get through the winter months because we make most of our money in the summer. We are behind right now, no question. This was not beneficial for our business by any means."
Tague mentioned he is already in the process of rehiring workers based upon seniority and will rehire more as needed.
"Our first table for the indoor [service] just came in," stated Tague on Friday, June 12, "and we are hopeful it means more people will be coming to eat inside. But it's hard to tell right now."
Despite having the authorization to expand seating outdoors, many restaurants such as Jerlando's did not have the required space needed and were surviving solely on takeout and delivery.
"Right now we have about 50 percent capacity, about 12 tables totaling about 50 people max but it's [still] a relief," Tague said. "I try telling people that working solely on takeout is like trying to power an 18-wheeler with a four-cylinder engine."
At Castel Grisch, Evans said along with now being able to offer tasting options inside, numerous extra tables have been set up outdoors.
"We have put in extra cleaning and hand sanitization procedures as dictated by the Centers for Disease Control, and we have taken on further procedures recommended by the Cornell University Department of Agriculture," Evans stated.
During the first day of Phase 3, Evans said that customers have been coming in a steady trickle.
"It will help for sure, so hopefully we can catch up a little bit," Evans said while adding that internet sales during the shutdown were especially high.
"That has helped big time but it still has been tough," Evans added.
Along with the reopening of the foodservice industry, Phase 3 also means the state is now allowing localities to open public pools and playgrounds at their discretion, as long as they are following state guidelines.