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Long Beach businesses take small steps in Phase One re-opening

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Long Beach's business community is waking up. Slowly and cautiously.

The first early breaths of life could be felt on the West End, where on Friday morning, Angela Skudin opened wide the door of her four-year-old artisanal gift shop, The Codfish Cowboy, for the first time since March 16, when the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping the county.

It was fitting that Skudin's store was among the first of the retail shops to open in Long Beach. The Codfish Cowboy, which Skudin opened with $25,000 in cash, personifies Long Beach. It features a colorful array of paintings, jewelry, clothing and children's books, most all created by Long Beach artists.

"I'm excited about re-opening", said Skudin, a peppy mother of two and a member of the prominent Long Beach surfing family. "I want people to feel comfortable here. I'm cautiously optimistic" about the future. "I just hope we get the support of the community."

During the shutdown, Skudin transferred her business online. She hand-delivered orders, from Manhattan to Northport. The shutdown, she said, was costly. She estimates her business lost $60,000 in sales during the two months the doors were closed. There is little hope, Skudin said, of making-up the loss.

In the early morning hours of Friday, a few long-time customers walked in, welcoming Skudin back to business "A lot of local businesses are opening," said one of Skudin's customers, Samantha Esposito, a 28-year-old speech pathologist. "They've been closed a long time."

The rules of engagement for re-opening were not entirely clear, either to customers or retailers themselves. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Phase 1 re-opening plan, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, wholesale trade and retail stores (for curbside pick up) are allowed to open.

Different retailers interpreted the rules differently. Skudin and others said stores are allowed to open to 50 percent of their capacity. Skudin said she is allowed to have 20 people in her store and that masks are required. But at Moku, a surf sportswear shop a few doors away, co-owner Johnny Barnas said only two people at a time can enter a store.

Ian Danby, chairman of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, said Friday he is putting together a guide for what retailers can and can't do. "There are little grey areas" in the rules, Danby said.

Jenna Morace, general manager of Reign, a women's' clothing store in West Beech, said customers can look into the shop's huge windows to see what they want. They may then take the item, pay and leave. Browsing is out and masks must be worn.

Business declined during the shutdown, despite online sales.

"We have to be open," Morace said. "This is a summer, beach community. People want to be out."

Skudin, whose husband, Casey, is a New York City firefighter who helped her put the store together, said Cuomo has not been clear about what is and what is not allowed.

"I'm really frustrated," Skudin said. "If there are rules in place, just enforce them." She said what she sees as disarray in the re-opening of the state "shows how out of touch Cuomo is."

Skudin is no neophyte to retail. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oka., Skudin has worked in the business since her teen years. She worked in sales at such major department stores as Nordstrom. She came to Long Beach with a husband, but that marriage dissolved quickly. Casey Skudin was a neighbor and a local lifeguard. They dated and soon married.

She always wanted a shop of her own. The $25,000 she had on hand "was it," Skudin said. "I garbage-picked" to build the store. After superstorm Sandy, she said, "I went to dumps and pulled out all of the wood" needed to build.

She has one employee, Meilin Garfinkel, who is about to graduate Long Beach High School and plans to attend Northeastern University in Boston in the fall if it is open. She is happy to be at work. The closing, she said "has been long enough. It's time to open."

The proceeds from some items in The Codfish Cowboy go to help fund the Long Beach Arts Council.

For the time being, customers were enjoying the freedom of roaming about Skudin's store, wearing their masks.

"I think this is fantastic," said Elyse Cascio, 37. "As long as everyone is safe, it's fine."

Skudin looked about her shop with pride, knowing she has to move forward. "In business, you adapt or you fizzle out. I wasn't willing to fizzle out," she said.