Claude Solnik


Long Island’s First Amazon Fresh Supermarket Reportedly Coming to Plainview

amazon fresh
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Workers recently were busy renovating a former Fairway Market in Manetto Hill Plaza in Plainview. The plan reportedly is to open Long Island’s first Amazon Fresh supermarket at the site.

“We missed having a supermarket in the shopping center,” said a worker at Optical Image, in the shopping center near the vacant store.

While Long Island has long been a land rich in supermarkets, it is now the center of a kind of global food fight over suburban shopping dollars. In a time of supermarket shuffles, more players are jumping into the fray.

German grocery retailer Lidl is growing and Aldi has arrived from Italy, and now Amazon, after acquiring Whole Food Market, reportedly prepares to open its first Long Island Amazon Fresh in a shopping center owned by Kimco Realty Corporation.

That decision, first reported in Newsday, which cited building department documents, was then reported by Progressive Grocer, although Amazon has declined to comment.

“It’s a competitive marketplace. King Kullen is a player along with Stop & Shop and you have ShopRites out here,” Marcum National Food and Beverage Practice Leader Louis Biscotti said. “Those are all significant players. I think it will get even more competitive.”

Walmart as well as specialty players such as Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace vie for a share of the Long Island market and the territory of your breakfast, lunch, and dinner table.

“It’s nice and clean and the people are friendly,” Mark Marajh said as he exited a fairly new, massive ShopRite near a Lidl.

Another shopper minutes later exited a Lidl, where a ShopRite had been until it moved to a larger location. “I love it,” the shopper said as he left Lidl. “The pricing is good. Lidl brands are great.”

On the most basic level, demographics are driving a grocery gold rush on Long Island as loyalties are tested, toyed with, and changed.

“There’s a place for everyone. Look at Costco and the Kirkland brand,” Biscotti said of Costco’s private label. “It depends on the consumer and what they’re looking for.”

Suffolk County in 2019 had about 1.5 million residents, including 489,000 households, while Nassau had 1.4 million people and 448,000 households. A lot of players want a piece of this massive shopping cart, which only seemed to grow during the pandemic.

Lidl, which operates around 11,200 stores in 32 countries, has grown to 125 stores in the United States, since entering the market in 2017. Lidl said it’s offering $200 to employees to get vaccinated, as supermarkets seek to stay safe and attract consumers in-store.

“Lidl has made it a priority to adapt our policies to work better for our people during this pandemic,” former Lidl US CEO Johannes Fieber said of the chain that operates more than 10 stores on Long Island

Lidl on May 19 converted a Best Market it acquired in Westhampton Beach to its Lidl brand. “Best Markets was a big acquisition for them,” Biscotti said. “That was a good inroad in the Long Island marketplace.”

Aldi has grown to more than 2,000 stores in the United States. Since opening in Bay Shore in 2011, Aldi has grown to more than half a dozen on Long Island and roughly 15 in New York City and Long Island combined.

“Long Island is an important market for us,” an Aldi U.S. executive told Supermarket News in August 2020.

Longtime local presence ShopRite, a cooperative including individual owners operating under the ShopRite banner, has been growing. New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corp., the cooperative’s merchandising and distribution arm, reported $18.3 billion in retail sales for the 53-week fiscal year ending Oct. 3, 2020, up 9.75 percent from the prior year.

“Our customers turned to us for reassurance and for the things they wanted and needed for their families during this challenging time,” Wakefern President and COO Joe Sheridan said.

The Greenfield family, led by father and son Jon and Seth Greenfield, own and operate the 68,000-square-foot ShopRite of Country Pointe in the new Country Pointe center in Plainview and four other ShopRites on Long Island.

Meanwhile, Amazon Fresh, which operates stores smaller than the typical supermarket, reportedly will take 33,000 square feet of the 55,000-square-foot former Fairway, relying on big data and smaller stores.

“There’s a big debate on that,” Biscotti said of store size, as some retailers seek to target tastes with big data, while others seek to go big.

Amazon in 2017 bought Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion and opened a chain of Amazon Go convenience stores with high-tech check out.  “When they bought Whole Foods, Amazon had a vision,” Biscotti continued. “They’re trying to ramp it up.”

Amazon opened its first Amazon Fresh store in August 2020, in Woodland Hills, Calif., and operates roughly a dozen and reportedly plans to open nearly 30 more with automated checkout technology.

“Supermarkets must have up-to-date technology. You go into a store and promotions can be downloaded directly to your phone,” Biscotti said of tech becoming more common. “It will direct you to the shelf.”

He said retailers need to tailor selection to neighborhoods, using data and artificial intelligence to better serve shoppers. Supermarkets also are “adding ancillary service and things that attract the consumer,” Biscotti said.

In addition to beefing up delivery, supermarkets sometimes offer pharmacies, financial centers, sitting areas to eat, restaurants and, now and then, live music.

Amazon could shake up the supermarket industry, but the company doesn’t have a monopoly on the Midas touch. Amazon in 2016 launched the 365 by Whole Foods Market chain, but by 2019 converted the stores to Whole Foods stores.

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George Korten, Owner of George Martin Restaurants on Long Island, Talks Business

george martin
George Korten.

George Korten and his company, the George Martin Group, have built a restaurant brand on and beyond Long Island including George Martin The Original and GM Burger Bar, both in Rockville Centre; Grillfire in Merrick; and George Martin’s Strip Steak in Great River. There’s also George Martin’s Grillfire and Italian concept Vivo, both in The Hotel at Arundel Preserve, Hanover, Md. We talked with Korten about restaurants persevering through the pandemic and beyond.

What unites and differentiates your restaurants?

It’s a multiconcept company. All the concepts are different however, a passion for hospitality and attention for detail are focal points. With everyone that we hire, we look for an emotional IQ, an understanding of people and how to serve them and make them feel good about their experience. We’re in the business of making people happy. It’s the food, the service and so many details.

How did you and the company handle the pandemic?

It was a shock to everyone. On March 13, the government shut everybody down. It was a terrible time. No one could wrap their head around it. No one knew how long it would last and how we would move past it. The uncertainty and stress affected staff, customers, everybody.

What was the next key moment toward a turnaround?

Ultimately, we were allowed to open and transition to takeout and delivery. That was a breath of fresh air after being closed. We followed every government guideline we could, from sanitizing to masking up to social distancing. Ultimately, we got through it, transitioning from takeout delivery to 25 percent capacity, to 50 percent, to 75 percent capacity. It was a long 15 months.

Did the Paycheck Protection Program help?

The two rounds of PPP were a lifesaver for everyone. We were very grateful for that. I don’t believe anyone in any business would still be open if it was brick and mortar. The shutdown stopped the cash flow. Thankfully, all my landlords were very accommodating.

How important was it to be safe and make workers and consumers feel safe?

There’s a whole new component now, and that’s safety. That’s all I heard during the pandemic: “I feel safe going to a George Martin restaurant.” They knew we were really paying attention. That’s a big thing.

How are things now?

There’s a tremendous pent-up demand. The vaccination process has been such a success. This entire time period was a 15-month loss to almost everyone. Folks want to get out and get back to something that resembles normal. Our restaurants have a good reputation. We’ve been around a long time. We really take care of our customers. They’re coming back in droves.

Has it been tougher than usual to hire enough people?

There is a labor crisis on top of a pandemic crisis. The pent-up demand to go out to restaurants exceeds the supply of staff that is needed to handle the demand. And that has affected most restaurants, from Long Island to San Francisco. The additional federal unemployment is probably part of the problem, but I believe there are other components as well contributing to the shortage.

Why did you go into the restaurant business?

I was 16 when I started washing dishes at a local restaurant to make money. I came from a single-parent household and needed to help my mom, since every penny counted. I played three sports as well, which was tough, not leaving much time for anything else. I went on to learn all the different positions in a restaurant, including assistant managing. By age 19, I was tending bar at the Playboy Club of New York. One thing led to another and the general manager wrote a letter of recommendation for me for Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. I drove up there to interview and was accepted, a major turning point in my young adult life.

Did studying hospitality at Cornell help?

Cornell taught me how to deal with intense pressure and think analytically. From there I went to Manhattan and worked for Hyatt Hotels for about 6 months. After Hyatt, I was able to find a management position at a company with three entrepreneurs, spearheaded by Michael Weinstein, who pioneered restaurant growth on the Upper West Side in the ’80s. I worked my way up to director of operations. On my day off, I would walk the streets of every neighborhood in New York, one neighborhood at a time, and look at different concepts.

What’s your role in the company today?

Today it’s very different from when I got started. I’m president of the company. We have a terrific group of managers, chefs, financial and marketing people who have grown with me over the years. They all do such a terrific job, which helped perpetuate our growth.

Did anything good for restaurants come out of the pandemic?

An awareness and importance of sanitation. It was there before, but it’s even more important now. We’re very diligent about it. Most restaurants have learned a lot. To everyone’s credit, the percentage of positive cases in restaurants on Long Island and across New York in was very low. I think that’s due to following mask guidelines and sanitation.

In addition to good food, how important is atmosphere in attracting people?

It’s a whole package, from design to food, hospitality, service, everything. It’s not one component. It’s all of that put together. We haven’t had any problem getting people back. We’ve been around, we have a reputation, a brand.

Has takeout grown?

Takeout is a bigger part. We have been working hard at it to be efficient. That was a positive. I think it’s here to stay. We did meal kits. We were creative.

Do you think diners appreciate restaurants more?

People are so happy to be out and in our restaurants. We have regular and new customers. They’re part of the family.

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Long Island Food Businesses Cook Up A Storm at Incubator in Calverton

Honey Health

At around 9 a.m. on June 15, Samantha Sherman, owner of The Hampton Grocer, arrived in a rented kitchen at Stony Brook University’s Food Business Incubator at Calverton. She soon left with the latest batch of The Hampton Grocer granola.

“I baked 300 pounds of granola in an hour,” Sherman said after finishing. “I do all of my production out of the incubator’s kitchen. It’s a great space with large ovens.”

While restaurants often faced a financial famine through much of the pandemic, Stony Brook University’s business incubator in Calverton is, if not in the midst of a feast, as busy as ever. Shared kitchens have cropped up across Long Island, giving culinary entrepreneurs a place to work, including this kind of culinary central.

“It’s incredible how many new companies have come in,” said Elaine Peterson, operation manager, for Alpha Honey Health, who has used the incubator since 2020. “The incubator’s there to help us succeed and link us with a network, whether it’s labels, marketing or retailers.”

Don’t ask what’s cooking in Calverton, unless you’ve got some time to listen to the answer. Yvonne Schultz leads the incubator, used by 64 companies, including 23 with dedicated space. 

Businesses using the incubator, focusing on foods and beverages, offer pickles, cocktail mixers, dips, honey, a dizzying array of baked goods, pet treats, and much more.

“The incubator brings a sophisticated, high-quality kitchen space that we can use,” said Peterson. “You have to have the cleanest level of kitchens. That kitchen has to be pristine.”

Companies work in spaces including a shared-use commercial manufacturing kitchen divided into five areas, each with its own equipment. There’s a baking area, gluten-free kitchen, packaging area, storage, and operations space. Add to that walk-in refrigeration, freezer space, blast chillers, dishwashing station, a produce-washing sink, and mobile steel tables.

“They try to build a community, to connect people,” Stacy Malinow, who leads Bliss Pastries, said of camaraderie and cooking space. “With the pandemic, it’s been hard. Everyone cooks in their kitchen and stays by themselves.”

Juliet Day, owner and chief baker at Baked By Juliet, launched her business in June 2020 and began working at the incubator in January, making scones and cookies.

“A lot of them have been in this industry a lot longer than I have,” Day said of fellow entrepreneurs. “They are very willing to give advice and suggest resources I wouldn’t have known about.”

Malinow said Shultz has provided support throughout. “Yvonne helped with baking information, vendors, finding a company for packaging, general knowledge,” she said. “She gave me a lot of advice.”

Each entrepreneur has a story to tell. Day got a crash course in business after her culinary studies were put on hold. “I planned to go to pastry school,” she said. “Then the pandemic happened. Things shut down.”

During the pandemic, Sherman saw demand grow for granola, which she built into a business. “I started selling granola as part of gift baskets I delivered,” Sherman said. “The granola business was flourishing. I decided to laser focus on granola.”

Malinow began doing gluten-free baking in 2005 when her daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. “I decided to take things into my hands and develop things she would want to eat,” she said. “People told me, ‘You should start a business.’”

Bliss Pastries was born, making gluten-free chocolate cookies, brownies, chocolate chip cookie pies, and muffins. Malinow bakes in the incubator’s gluten-free kitchen. “They don’t taste gluten free,” she said. “People don’t feel like they’re eating something different than everyone else. Everyone wants to eat them.”

Margaret and Bruce McDonough developed dog treats for their dog after becoming dissatisfied with what was available. Talk Treats To Me began doing business at the incubator in February 2020, making bottom round beef, beef liver, and chicken breast treats.

“People said, ‘Could I get some of that for my dog?’” said McDonough, whose wife has since passed away. “We said, ‘OK.’”

Each company has a niche, often serving specialized tastes or providing fresh, high-end, or healthy products. Alpha Honey Health imports Manuka honey from New Zealand which the company describes as high-end, providing taste and health. “They use helicopters to get the stuff,” Peterson said.

Encouragement from the incubator and entrepreneurs helps, but so does recognition and the satisfaction of seeing product sell out. Malinow said Taste New York’s center in Dix Hills increased its orders after selling out. Bliss Pastries recently delivered baked goods to a Taste New York kiosk at Moynihan Train Hall in Manhattan.

Alpha Honey Health, meanwhile, just won a triple-star superior taste award from the International Taste Institute in Brussels, Belgium. “As people emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, they have a greater appreciation for healthy living,” Peterson added.

While each businessperson is doing their own thing, even during the pandemic, an incubator can provide a sense of truly being in this together – and sometimes helping one another.

“The incubator’s a very nice community of people,” Bruce McDonough said. “People are for the most part very supportive. They’re trying to work hard and get things going.”

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Managing Partner of Rivkin Radler, Long Island’s Largest Law Firm, Talks Shop

rivkin radler
Evan Krinick helps lead the largest law firm on Long Island.

During Evan Krinick’s eight-and-a-half year tenure as managing partner at Uniondale-based Rivkin Radler, the firm has grown in size, scope, and depth. We talked with him about law, management, the pandemic, and the future.

Can you describe the role of managing partner? A managing partner acts as the chief executive officer of the law firm. We have close to 400 employees, and more than 200 attorneys spread out over five offices. I am helped by an amazing administrative team that helps us manage all the nonlegal aspects of the law firm. My job is to make sure the firm runs smoothly so our lawyers can practice law, providing the services our clients need.

Can you describe some of the firm’s major accomplishments during your tenure? I think we’ve succeeded over the last eight years in expanding the depth and breadth of a number of our practice areas to meet the growing needs of our clients. We grew from fewer than 150 attorneys to slightly more than 200 attorneys. We added considerable talent in a variety of practice areas, most recently, in light of what’s coming down from Washington, taxes, and other regulations. We expanded our practice in what was formerly the trusts and estates area, and is now called personal, family, and business planning. We expanded our health services practice, where we represent physicians, medical practice groups, healthcare systems and hospitals in acquisitions, compliance, and regulatory matters. The depth of our practice and the size of our firm has grown.

How did the firm respond to the pandemic? We’ve taken a very cautious, conservative approach to working during the pandemic. Our singular goal has been the safety of our workforce and their families. For a long time, we prohibited anyone other than essential personnel to come to the office. We only, starting this week, required staff and attorneys to come to the office two days a week. For the balance of the last 14 months, we encouraged people to work remotely. We learned we are resilient. What seems difficult is very possible if you have a positive attitude and you work together. We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly we could transition to a remote environment and satisfy our clients’ needs.

How will the firm operate differently, if at all, after the pandemic? That’s under careful consideration. We will act differently. What that will look like has yet to be decided. I don’t think anybody thinks we’re going back to precisely the way things were prepandemic. We set up focus groups in the firm to make sure all stakeholders, from partners to associates, administrators to staff, can offer thoughts and observations. We’ll gather those and try to come up with policies that make sense for the firm in the long term.

What areas of law are going strong and what areas have slowed? Litigation has, of course, slowed down recently, because the courts just now are starting to figure out how to recover from the pandemic. That’s deferred. Litigation will have to continue and be completed. A practice area going quite strongly, in addition to planning and tax work, is real estate. There’s a lot of lease negotiation going on, investment in properties, not necessarily in New York, but by New York investors. There’s a fair amount of work going on in the health industry. Hospitals, doctors, and ambulatory surgery centers all face unique challenges and that requires counsel.

What are the firm’s plans for the future? One of the things we’re most proud of in recent times is the increased diversity among our professional staff. It’s something we worked very hard on and had some success with and are working hard to continue. A more diverse law firm is a better law firm. It provides diversity of thinking and better solutions for client problems. From 2014 to now, we’ve gone from nine to 23 female partners, 14 female associates and counsel to 41 female associates and counsel. We have seven otherwise diverse partners and 19 otherwise diverse associates and counsel.

What advice would you have for those considering a career as a lawyer? I would tell anyone who wanted to be a lawyer today to be sure that you’re passionate about wanting to help people. It’s a challenging profession, a rewarding profession, but it’s a profession of hard-working people.

What makes a lawyer a good fit at Rivkin Radler? I think the most important quality for lawyers at Rivkin Radler is their personality and ability to be a team player. They have to buy into the old sentiment that says no one person can accomplish as much alone as a group of people working together.

What are the biggest challenges for lawyers today? I think the biggest challenge is to find the right work-life balance. The world we live in makes that much more challenging than when I started practicing law. Lawyers sometimes struggle to find that work-life balance. There needs to be a balance in what you do for a living and what you are as a person.

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New Businesses Emerge Even As Pandemic Poses Challenges

new businesses
L. to R.: Michael DePietro, chairman & CEO of Acoustik Attak, Inc. (Photo by Darlene Santiago DePietro) and Pulse fitness founder Julie Dermer. (Photo by Matteo Photography)

Michael DePietro played a few riffs on his Gibson guitar one recent afternoon as the sound coursed through a Supro Black Magick reverb amp, first with the help of a traditional pick and then with a premium pick his company makes.

“These picks brighten the tone that you get,” DePietro, a 46-year-old Manhasset resident, said. “And they add a little percussive effect.”

DePietro, CEO of Karate Combat, a professional sports league, and Mark Labbe, the company’s chief technology officer, joined forces during the pandemic to launch Acoustik Attak, a new company that makes ridged, not flat, guitar picks.

“It really brings this brightness and this aura to my reverb amp when I play on my Gibson,” DePietro said. “If you can change the tone at your fingertips, that’s when the art gets conveyed in the music.”

While the pandemic may be a tough time for longstanding businesses and startups, DePietro is among a plethora of entrepreneurs who started businesses even as Covid-19 complicated nearly everything.

Julie Dermer, a Manhattan and East Hampton resident, started her own virtual workout company known as Pulse amid the pandemic after SoulCycle, where she is an instructor, temporarily closed down.

“I didn’t intend for it to be a business,” said Dermer, known as Julie D to those who take her personal training classes. “I wanted a way to stay connected to my community. I got onto Instagram and sprang into action.”

Dermer initially taught half-hour exercise classes with a dish towel and bottles for weights, but her virtual workouts have taken off with about 200 members in addition to classes for companies, she says.

“I’m doing it for a few corporations through their HR departments as health and wellness for their employees,” said Dermer, who offers classes four days a week on Zoom as well as private, in-person lessons and classes for special occasions. 

Entrepreneurs have been starting up and expanding through franchises, seeking to start their own businesses by tapping into existing brands.

Josh York, CEO of GYMGUYZ, an in-home personal training company, said his company has been growing rapidly during the pandemic as franchisees start up and clients seek training in their homes.

“In the last eight months, it’s been pretty crazy,” York, based in Plainview, said. “We are a mobile operation. There’s no brick and mortar.”

York said he recently got 45 franchise leads from an appearance on CNBC for his company, which sells virtual training and in-home training sessions.

“People sampled our service throughout the pandemic,” York said. “The pandemic created new consumer behavior. The whole world is based on convenience.”

While many startups provide online services, Acoustik Attak used technology to get started, like a high-tech version of a garage band. Labbe made the first picks with a 3D printer, before they refined designs and found a manufacturer. 

Acoustik Attak, DePietro said, remains a “100 percent virtual company” with 12 employees in home offices.

“The guitar market grew 17 percent during Covid,” DePietro said, explaining one reason this may be the right time for his company to launch and grow. “People were staying home and picking up a new instrument.”

Companies are expanding online and via brick and mortar. GYMGUYZ recently got into Costco, which sells its virtual training sessions. 

“It’s not easy to get into Costco,” York said. “Persistence, that’s it.”

Brick-and-mortar businesses are launching as well now that the economy is reopening.  High Score Pinball Arcade opened in April at the Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore with more than 40 pinball machines.

And MagicBox by SHOWFIELDS, a revolving retail experience with brands and communities which bills itself as “the most interesting store in the world,” opened at the Roosevelt Field mall, in March.

Traditional retail is beginning to rebound, but Dermer believes virtual services, such as physical training, which lets people work out at home, will remain in fashion long after the pandemic abates.

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What Pot Legalization Will Mean For the Workplace

pot legalization
A man rolls a hybrid strain joint of cannabis to smoke at his home in New York, U.S. April 1, 2021. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Wednesday to legalize adult use of marijuana, making it the 15th U.S. state to allow recreational use of the drug. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

New York State on March 31 with one stroke of the governor’s pen ended the prohibition of recreational marijuana for adults. It also opened the door to questions about what employers can and can’t do.

The new law, which limits legal possession to up to 3 ounces of cannabis and 24 grams of cannabis concentrate, outlines basic things that are off limits, although the specifics aren’t yet set. 

“Unlawful discrimination will be prohibited and workplace safety protections will be implemented,” the law says in a section addressing employers.

The legislation said that because of “broken, unjust, and outdated“ policies, “New York has become the marijuana arrest capital of the country, with nearly 800,000 marijuana arrests and summonses.” About 60 million Americans lived in states where adult-use cannabis is legal, before the legislation passed.

The law lifts the state’s ban on recreational marijuana for those 21 and older, establishes the Office of Cannabis Management, expands the state’s existing medical marijuana program and establishes a licensing system for producers, distributors, and retailers.

It also creates a program “encouraging individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis enforcement” to participate in the industry, aiming for half of licenses to go to minority or woman-owned businesses, small farms facing difficulties, and disabled veterans.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the rules “comprehensive reforms” that would “address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis.” But if marijuana is legal for adults, what is legal for employers to do?

“There are numerous employment-related implications to the law, starting from pre-employment drug testing,” said Avrohom Gefen, a partner at Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP’s Employment Law, Commercial Litigation, and Alternative Dispute Resolution Practices. “If you’re going to administer pre-employment drug tests, you’ll likely get tripped up.”

New York City’s Human Rights law already bans pre-employment marijuana testing, and the new law is expected to essentially extend that prohibition.

“Many handbooks have a drug-testing policy,” Gefen said. “A typical panel of drugs would include cannabis. We’re advising employers to revise that.”

He added that companies can prohibit employees from using marijuana in the office and coming to work under the influence.

Marijuana use remains prohibited under federal law, a policy which can come into play in some ways. State law says employers can’t be penalized for following federal guidelines, such as those for pilots, truck drivers, train operators, first responders and police officers.

“You can test them even without observing any articulable symptoms pre-employment and during employment,” Gefen said.

Cities, towns, and villages can opt out of allowing “adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses,” but cannot “opt out of adult-use legalization.”

The state Department of Health has been instructed to study detection of cannabis-impaired driving and is expected to “approve and certify a test for the presence of cannabis in drivers.” You’re still not allowed to use marijuana while driving.

“With alcohol, there are bright-line rules,” Gefen said, noting the need for standards. “If you’re over a certain legal limit, you’re considered intoxicated.”

The state plans to set up a program for homegrown marijuana that will allow up to three mature plants and three immature plants for adults over 21 and six mature plants and six immature plants maximum per household.

And it created “automatic expungement or resentencing” for anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would “now be legal under the law.”

“I don’t think there’s a strong movement to legalize pot at the federal level,” Gefen said. “You have individual states taking action. And the federal government is not taking strong action against it.”

The Shinnecock Indian Nation plans to cultivate marijuana on its reservation in Southampton now that recreational use is legal, as the new rules create some jobs.

“Ultimately, you’ll have big money behind it,” Gefen said of an industry that could employ thousands in the state legally. “As it becomes more acceptable and prevalent, you’re going to see institutional money behind businesses.”

Legalization would bring taxation, projected to reach $350 million annually, and potentially create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs.

“The governor sees tax dollars running to other states, such as New Jersey, which legalized it previous to this,” Gefen said. “They see people crossing over the border to buy marijuana legally. They would lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year.”

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Adventureland President Talks Reopening After More Than One Year

Adventureland president and co-owner Steven Gentile on the carousel at Adventureland in Farmingdale.

Steven Gentile, president and co-owner of L.I. Adventureland, an amusement park on Long Island, talked about making it through the pandemic, reopening, and its newest ride.

How did you adjust to the pandemic? The pandemic unfortunately kept us closed during the 2020 season, even though on July 8, we were prepared for the fourth phase of reopening. They ended up excluding the amusement industry from that fourth phase. We were prepared and ready to go.

What did you do? We pivoted out of that closure to do some movies and concerts during the summer of 2020. It was helpful for us to keep us relevant on Long Island. I feel that Long island people were supporting our movies, and concerts gave us a chance to support them. 

What did you do while closed? We kept our full-time staff employed throughout the pandemic. That enabled us to do a lot of painting, fixing, adjusting different things. We got a new ride this year called “The Sports Tower” from Italy. It’s a 60-foot sports tower that gives you an aerial view of Adventureland and Farmingdale.  You spin in your sports-themed gondola. At nighttime, the lights on the ride give you a beautiful light show.

When did you reopen? We got the green light to open up the amusement industry April 10, so April 10, Saturday, was our first day of operation. We had all the social protocols in place. The park is open at 33 percent. We found ourselves to have a strong reservations system. We had strong results.

How do you manage people there? All purchases must be done off our website, so we can have staggered entry, entering the park. Each hour we allow a certain number of people to sign up and enter the park through our online portal. We don’t want a cluster at the ticket booth or waiting online.

Are all the rides open? All the rides are open. The rides are running at a capacity of 33 percent. You can push some to 50 percent because they are spaced out in a safe way. Most of the rides are socially distanced already. 

What’s the atmosphere like? Fantastic. I think it’s pent-up fun people were not able to experience over the past year. They could take advantage of other things to do on Long Island. Adventureland is one of those things to hit once or twice during the summer. 

Who’s going? We’re getting a lot of parents with their kids and quite a few 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. It’s mostly a family crowd. The park is open Saturdays and Sundays through Memorial Day. After Memorial Day, our hours broaden. We’ll be open seven days a week by the end of June when schools let out.

Are you making any other changes?  We’re bringing in more food items. We brought in beer, wine, and seltzer for the first time in 25 years. It’s being well received and well respected. Parents are taking advantage of that in a nice way. 

How did you handle things financially? We took advantage of the PPP and the SBA’s  COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). The PPP should be forgiven since we didn’t open and lost at least 95 percent of our income from the previous year. The EIDL loans have to be paid back. We’re hoping our industry, the amusement park industry, will be included in any grants out there to be offered, primarily the SVOG Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. Grants are coming down from New York State.

What’s the status of your foundation? Last year, the pandemic caused us to cancel our foundation’s largest fundraising event for Adventureland’s Helping Hands Foundation, created in 2015 after my dad, Tony Gentile, passed away in 2013. Now our VIP event will be held Friday, Sept. 10. It’s primarily a fundraiser for the foundation’s scholarship fund. We incorporated my mom Vivian into that scholarship. It’s the Tony and Vivian Scholarship fund.

How does the upcoming year look?  When you operate at 33 percent, that means you’re operating at 33 percent income. We’re happy that we’re open and able to generate some income. We’re happy for ourselves and our guests, our fans, the public. We get to see them and they get to see us and enjoy the park. We need to be safe and practice the proper protocols, but we need the powers that be to expand our 33 percent to get to a higher percentage. We need to be included in grants.

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Tritec Real Estate’s Bob Coughlan Reimagines Downtowns on Long Island

downtowns on long island
Bob Coughlan is a leader in mixed-use development on LI.

We talked with Bob Coughlan, a principal at Tritec Real Estate Co., based in Setauket, about how the company he and his brother Jim founded 35 years ago is developing projects in Long Island’s downtowns and elsewhere.

Tell me how and why the company is rebranding. It’s to reflect what we’ve been doing as an organization for over 15 years and focusing on developing multifamily and mixed-use projects in downtown, walkable communities where we can help revitalize the community.

Can you give one example of a project you’ve done? New Village in Patchogue is one of the early if not first downtown revitalizations efforts on Long Island. We successfully built 291 residential units, 45,000 square feet of retail, and 17,000 square feet of office space.

How do you develop multiuse, since it has so many elements? It does, but it reflects the character and fabric of the areas we’re developing. Over the last decades, Long Island, being the first suburb, broke down uses into a Euclidean planning process. They separated office and industrial space. Retail was in another area. If you go back in time, communities were built up with a mix of various uses within walking distance of each other. People live, work, play within a radius they could walk to.

Can you tell me projects you’re involved with as we speak, or upcoming? We have a number of them. Lindenhurst. The Wel with just one L. We’re in the process of finishing a residential multifamily apartment project with 260 residential units that will be about two city blocks from Wellwood Avenue. It opens in early April.

How is demand for that project? Over 1,000 people expressed an interest in renting space prior to our opening in April. A good number of people will sign leases at some point in April or May. That project and the other projects we’re focused on are catalysts for economic development. Since we started construction, over 17 new restaurants signed leases on Wellwood Avenue in Lindenhurst.

What’s the status of your Ronkonkoma development? We recently completed Alston Station Square at Ronkonkoma Train Station, a 489-unit multifamily residential rental project. It’s proximate to the train station, but it’s part of a larger project, 53 acres at the Ronkonkoma Train Station. Our leasing has been going extremely well throughout Covid. Over 320 of those units have been leased. We’re starting construction in a couple of weeks in Ronkonkoma on our second phase, the core of our downtown at the train station. We’re building 388 residential units and 73,000 square feet of retail space and 15,000 square feet of office space. That will be the hub of that community.

Any breaking news with big projects to come? We’re under contract to buy Touro College’s Bay Shore campus. We’re looking to break ground in June on 418 residential units across from the train station one block from Main Street. It’s walkable from the ferries going to Fire Island, to South Shore Hospital.

How many construction jobs are these projects creating? The Ronkonkoma project overall will be over 10,000 construction jobs. Bay Shore is 900 jobs. The Wel is about 600 jobs. They are tremendous job generators and great places for people to live.

Did you shut down or were you impacted by the pandemic? During the early part of the pandemic, like everybody else, we were closed down for a couple of months before our construction teams could go back on-site. Like many others, we had to figure out what health and safety protocols to put in place. When we were allowed to go back to work, our jobs opened up. We lost some time, but were able to make up time on those projects. Many of our office workers are still working remotely from home.

Why and what are you doing in Northern Virginia? My brother Dan runs our Washington, D.C. operation. He is developing a large mixed-use project in Northern Virginia with multifamily rentals, condominiums, townhouses, retail, museums, a data center, and a school with soccer fields. We expanded to that area. It’s also one of the better real estate markets in the country.

How are your projects being impacted by people getting vaccinated? I’m not sure yet how that’s going to play out. During Covid, we had a significant number of people moving out of New York City, renting space in our projects. People moving out of the city not only rented space in our projects, they bought homes. The sellers also rented apartments in our projects.

What do you see happening next? I see more of the same. Before the pandemic, there was a tremendous need for multifamily housing on Long Island. The pandemic has heightened that need. We’re continuing to receive tremendous demand for multifamily, particularly within walkable communities near mass transportation.

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Long Island’s Solar Energy Market Heats Up As Technology Advances

solar energy
Photovoltaic panels are best erected on south-facing rooftops, experts say. (Getty Images)

Tesla electric vehicles aren’t just appearing on the roads. They’re also showing up nationwide on roofs. Don’t worry: That’s where these are designed to be. 

After shaking up the automobile industry and space travel, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has set his sights on the sun. Since the company’s 2016 acquisition of Solar City, a solar power developer and installer, Musk has been revolutionizing solar roofs. The company is making solar shingles that seamlessly cover roofs rather than positioning traditional panels, creating a technological tapestry.

“He’s going for the gold,” says Scott Maskin, CEO of Ronkonkoma-based SUNation Solar Systems, gearing up for its first Tesla solar shingle project on Long Island.  “He wants to own the entire house. The Tesla vision is that all homes will have Tesla solar shingles, electric vehicle chargers with a Tesla car, and a Tesla Powerwall energy storage system.”

While Tesla’s solar shingles are still fairly rare, solar energy has come a long way, and has come of age on Long Island.

“Long Island leads the state on solar arrays,” Renewable Energy Long Island Executive Director Gordian Raacke says. “We have high electric rates and a lot of sunshine, both of which make solar a good investment.”

In some ways, solar has been the victim of its own success. There haven’t been New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) residential solar rebates offered through Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) Long Island for simple rooftop solar on Long Island for five years.

“The idea was to assist people adopting solar and to kickstart the industry,” Maskin says, noting rebates remain in New York City. “The industry passed the kickstart mark.”

New York State still has a 25 percent tax credit up to $5,000 and a 26 percent federal investment tax credit in place.

“It was a huge deal,” Maskin says of the decision not to lower the credit for now. “We were expecting it to go down.”

Solar energy may seem like an ancient idea, but rooftop solar is actually a fairly recent innovation, really starting in the late 1990s.

“There were only a handful of grid-connected solar electric systems on Long Island,” Raacke says. “Today there are more than 50,000.”

The gross cost for an average system of about 8,000 watts, typically for $2,000 annual bills, is $22,00 to $30,000, but credits can significantly reduce that, Maskin says.

There are options to finance solar power, which typically has a return on investment of seven years. It’s possible to offset additional costs by paying for the power on your electric bill through a NYSERDA loan.

“I believe the best thing for a consumer is to own the solar system,” Maskin says, noting that some may prefer leasing if they can’t take advantage of tax credits.

The solar industry, unlike much construction, was declared nonessential during the pandemic, shutting down from March to June. The industry has since been ramping up amid rising residential bills.

“We have people who have been home and seen their electric bills skyrocket,” Maskin says of a recent rise in demand. “They work and go to school from home.”

Many people are going solar, but younger people are fueling the latest surge, for economic and environmental reasons.

“We’re seeing a surge in first-time home buyers, younger home buyers immediately adopting solar,” he says. “The 30- to 40-year-olds are really surging.”

Maskin added that residents’ biggest regret with solar power typically has less to do with the product than the timing.

“The No. 1 conversation I have with homeowners is, they wish they had done it sooner,” Maskin says.

He believes solar’s future is bright, especially amid a belief that President Joseph Biden is pro renewables, electric vehicles, and charging infrastructure. Pairing solar with a battery energy storage system to keep the lights on during power outages is catching on, Raacke says.

Will Musk show the roof is the limit for his technological revolution? For now, Tesla’s solar shingles can be pricey, making them a niche item, although that could change, if prices drop.

“It’s the same person who bought the first Tesla car,” Maskin says of residents installing Tesla solar shingles now. “There are people out there who want to have the first.”

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Bradley & Parker CEO, Wynne Nowland, Talks Being Trans, Heading Insurance Firm During Covid

bradley & parker CEO
Bradley & Parker CEO Wynne Nowland recently came out as transgender.

Wynne Nowland leads Bradley & Parker, an insurance, risk management and financial services firm based in Melville. We talked with the CEO about being trans, as well as developments in the insurance industry, including managing Covid.

What was it like as a trans person coming out? My personal experience was probably considerably easier than most. It was a fairly easy transition. I was accepted extremely well by my colleagues, not just the people who work in my company, also our client base, insurance company partners and vendors.

How did you let people in your life know? I picked a date and then I made sure that they were made aware of what I was doing. Nobody likes big surprises like that! I sent out a series of emails to people, letting them know what was going on. To people like my butcher and dry cleaner and even some favorite restaurants, I sent a snail mail telling them what was going on. So the next time I walked in, they knew what to expect.

Was this something that you had wanted for many years or only more recently? If I go back to my childhood, I always felt uncomfortable in my gender and confused as to why I felt the way I did. Back when I was 5 years old, this wasn’t a topic. As time went on, I always felt the same way. There didn’t seem to me to be options to do anything about it. As time marched on and this became more public and the internet made it easier to get information, I went through a gradual process.

To what do you attribute your company’s longevity? We just celebrated our 80th anniversary last year. We think it’s a core belief in doing the best we can for our clients and our team. We’ve tried to adapt to times with technology and customer engagement.

Why aren’t people typically covered for the pandemic? When they write insurance policies, they come up with actuarial tables that develop the rates. Like most of us who didn’t contemplate this could happen, neither did they. If the insurance industry paid all the claims out there because of Covid, the industry could be bankrupt.

Is the insurance industry recession-proof? I like to say the insurance business is not recession-proof, but it is recession-resistant. Most insurance that companies carry can’t be eliminated as a cost-saving measure. To the degree that companies stay in business, they still need insurance. As payrolls and sales went down for some clients, that could drive insurance premiums down.

What things can individuals or companies do to drive down premiums? Working with a qualified insurance advisor, companies can work to be safer, which ultimately can reduce premium costs. For instance, when they hire an employee who will be driving, they check their driving record. There are risk-management techniques, steps companies can take to lower the risks they have.

What are some other examples? If you’re a manufacturer, make sure that any machinery that could injure workers is properly monitored and has the proper locking devices. If a contractor uses a subcontractor, make sure the subcontractor has the proper insurance. If you own a building, make sure a sprinkler is installed and working.

How are you and the insurance companies working with individuals and companies amid Covid? There was a mandated component: We won’t cancel your insurance even if you don’t pay. Then there were voluntary things that the industry and many brokers did to help customers. Many personal insurance companies lowered automobile insurance premiums and refunded some of the premiums. People were not driving as much, so there was less risk. That was fairly common. We reached out to customers to see how they were doing. In cases where their businesses slowed down or temporarily closed, we got insurance carriers to voluntarily reduce some of those premiums.

Do you think the insurance industry could cover future pandemics? I think at some point and probably more so now with the new administration in Washington, they’ll come back to the question as to how to cover something like this in the future. They did that in 2001 after 9/11. A lot of the 9/11 claims weren’t covered either. They developed a new coverage, terrorism coverage, partially underwritten by the federal government. We’ll probably see something like that.

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