Everyone knows the ancient adage: “Slow and steady wins the race.” It couldn’t be more timely than today, as communities across the nation wage battle against COVID-19 — while at the same time struggling to help keep businesses afloat, get people back to work, and prepare for kids to get back to school.
“Slow and steady” is, in fact, Nyack’s battle plan. Results so far give encouraging examples of what small communities have done, and can do, to win the fight.
“Nyack is in many ways a model for the ongoing COVID battle in small villages across the country,” said Nyack Mayor Don Hammond. “While home to just under 8,000 residents, Nyack supports nearly 100 small businesses, as well as a nationally recognized hospital, schools, nursing homes, and a broad array of arts and cultural institutions. We’re all working together to navigate this unprecedented crisis.”
The latest of many community initiatives supports Nyack’s unique shops and restaurants, closing the streets on alternate Fridays, allowing businesses to expand their customer service footprint — safely. The first foray into “al fresco” on-the-street shopping and dining was held on Friday June 12, shortly after state regulations permitted this type of activity. Since then, the village has hosted two additional outdoor events, and plans seven more in August, September and October.
The next upcoming date is Friday, August 21 (rain date: August 28). In addition to shopping and dining, the events will feature live jazz, acoustic folk and rock music performances, and other attractions.
“The street closings open up important opportunities for us to connect live with customers, which is critical to the way we sell,” said retailer Maria Luisa Whittingham, owner of Maria Luisa boutique. “Our patrons want to see and touch our merchandise, and they value the on-the-spot advice we give about choices for themselves and gifts for friends and loved ones.”
“The additional space outside for diners is a real boon,” said Tom Lynch, owner of Casa del Sol restaurant. “Curbside takeout is not nearly enough to keep us going. Sidewalk seating and indoor dining can be tight and problematic. So the extra space on the street — even if just twice a month — really expands what we can do, and encourages people to come back.”
“We’re still working out the kinks,” Lynch added. “And we’re glad we didn’t rush into it.”
Nyack’s street closings are the product of groundwork set months ago in a slowly unfolding program to support the village. “Safety and security are the top priorities,” said Roger Cohen, President of the Nyack Chamber of Commerce. “Working through the logistics has been a thoughtful, deliberate process. It’s a lot more complex and expensive than it looks.”
In the first wave of the pandemic, the community rose to the challenge by quickly addressing urgent needs — for example, organizing a team of volunteer mask makers who worked with Montefiore Nyack Hospital to supply tens of thousands of masks to the hospital, local institutions and individuals. Nyack Center, Nyack Nourishes and Nyack Soup Angels quickly stepped up to provide food and other critical support to citizens and frontline workers in need. Those fundamental efforts continue.
“Montefiore Nyack Hospital has been here for our community for 125 years, and never before has our relationship with the community been stronger,” said Montefiore Nyack Hospital President & CEO, Mark Geller, MD. “We faced an unprecedented public health crisis for which our community reached out to assist.”
“The support we received from our neighbors and local businesses inspired our brave professionals to forge ahead even in the most trying of times,” added Geller. “Our commitment to serving the community remains steadfast, and with a renewed partnership with the community, we are ready to confront any challenges that lie ahead.”
Once New York State’s phased reopening began, the Nyack Chamber relaunched the popular Farmers Market on May 14, and has continued to operate this vital community service every Thursday from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm in the center of town.
“Safety is ‘job 1’ for the Market,” said Pam Moskowitz, Farmers Market Manager. “We took time to make sure we had stringent safety protocols in place before the Market reopening — safe distancing for shoppers waiting to enter and exit, distancing from the merchant booths, facilities for pre-ordering and, of course, masks for everyone.”
The outdoor shopping and dining events have followed that same path — advance planning, detailed understanding of state mandates, and stringent safety rules.
“Understandably, our efforts were imperfect at first,” said Scott Baird, Chamber Vice President. “It was hard for everyone, after quarantining for months, to remember and stick with the protocols. So we’ve made adjustments along the way, and we’re relentless on the basics — safe distancing and masks.”
The safety message is communicated loud and clear on banners and signs, and by staff who help manage village events. Nyack Mask Makers continue to offer free masks, and help ensure that people wear them in public gatherings. The village is especially fortunate to have Nyack Montefiore Hospital leading the community on public safety.
“Behavior is our biggest enemy and our biggest ally,” added Hammond. “If, in our close-knit community, we can get people on board with safe behaviors, we can defeat the virus — and allow people to enjoy basic pleasures despite a really tough situation.”
“We continue to make progress on these fronts,” Hammond continued. “We’re proud to say that Nyack is a ‘safe haven on the Hudson’ — a great place to live, and a place where people can come to shop and dine in a safe environment.”