In the heart of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, there is a very literal divide. Avenue U, between Coney Island Avenue and Batchelder Street, lies directly on the border of “red” and “yellow” COVID-19 cluster designations. In practice, this means that the Avenue’s non-essential businesses on the north side are completely closed, and the restaurants are only able to open for take-out and delivery. The south side of the street is still open for outdoor dining and only has high-risk businesses like gyms closed.
Even on a day already filled with gloom and rain, the scene on Avenue U is bleak. Half of the street’s numerous nail and hair salons are shuttered, with signs announcing the mandatory two-week minimum closure.
Right across the street, open signs blink on and off at businesses offering the exact same services.
Brennan & Carr, a sandwich shop that’s been around for 82 years, is on the “yellow” side. Eddie Sullivan, the general manager, says that things have been slow.
“The day is okay, but the nights are very quiet. Business is still way down. I think people are still hesitant about going in, especially the older folks [who are] being super cautious, which probably they should,” Sullivan said. “It seems like a lot of the businesses are taking all of the precautions; I know here we’re really going overboard. It’s people’s safety first.”
The shop used to be in an “orange” zone, and Sullivan says there’s been a slight increase since they were moved to “yellow.” Still, they only have one waiter and one busboy on during shifts, even on the weekends.
Other than the maps, which Sullivan says are “hard to read online,” the guidance Brennan & Carr has gotten from inspectors has been helpful.
“We’ve had a lot of inspections, and [I’m] very very impressed how helpful and caring the different agencies have been. Sometimes business people think that their agencies are just there to hurt them and take money, but all the people that we’ve met are going over different things, explaining how they want things. They’ve been pretty outstanding, in my opinion,” Sullivan said.
Michael Gidiuli, who manages Zee Bagels across the street in the “red” zone, has found the opposite to be true.
“They send inspectors to us every day. So far, about eight inspectors were here. [They’re] always saying the same thing about putting lines on the floor and wearing masks, which we’re already doing,” Gidiuli said. “I guess they have nothing else to do. They’re not doing a lot of stuff that the inspectors usually do because of the virus, so they have to send them to do other stuff to keep them busy.”
Things have been rough for the bagel shop, even though they still keep busy with deliveries.
“Everybody around us is closed, so a lot of our customers are not here. It’s ridiculous that one side of the street can do one thing, and the other has another,” he said.
“I don’t know why they didn’t do it on a residential avenue instead of splitting a commercial avenue in half. If they would’ve done it on Avenue V, which is all houses, everyone on the east side and the west side of the avenue would be closed or open. [Splitting a commercial strip is] like going through Kings Plaza and leaving the left side closed and the right side open. It makes no sense. Whoever did that didn’t put much thought into it.”
Governor Cuomo’s office did not immediately return a request for comment about why the specific Avenue was chosen for the split.
Another manager at a “red zone” Avenue U restaurant would say only that “things are very bad.”
In a press release on October 21st, Governor Cuomo detailed the reasoning for the cluster restrictions.
“We identify the micro-cluster, that’s called a red zone. We then put a buffer around it, that’s called an orange zone. We then put a buffer around the orange zone, which is a yellow zone. Why? Because these areas are so small that people walk to a store, people walk to a restaurant, and you see [that] the viral expansion will be a series of concentric circles. It just works its way out. You drop a pebble into a pond, and you have that first ring and the second ring and the third ring – that’s how COVID spreads,” Cuomo said, adding that the restrictions had been working and that cases were back down.
For Sullivan, it’s hard to see neighborhood favorites restricted in the “red” zone.
“It’s sad because you look at a place like Michael’s [on Avenue R], or a place like Buckley’s [on Avenue S], two places that are in the ‘red’ zone, and they probably do it as good as anybody. [They’re] protecting people. Their reputation is stellar in this community. I’ve eaten there myself. The way they do things is as close to perfect as you could be, so it’s kind of sad that a place a block away, two blocks away, wouldn’t be able to open, and this part of the Avenue can open,” he said. “They care about their customers.”
Sullivan says that the survival of the area will depend on everyone’s success.
“Our motto is we all survive together. It’s not just about Brennan &Carr being busy or successful. You want to see everybody [successful] because it’s good for the neighborhood. When there’s activity, there’s activity for everybody.”