‘They’re killing us,’ mini-golf owner says of state

“BEING HELD HOSTAGE BY NYS GOVT” says a sign outside Boots and Birdies mini-golf course in Lake Placid Friday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — Yvonne Nichols, co-owner of Lake Placid’s Boots and Birdies mini-golf course, was set to reopen her business this month.

She’d secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the federal Small Business Administration a few weeks ago and used it to rehire her staff ahead of the North Country region’s Phase 4 reopening on Friday. She said she spent thousands of dollars on inventory and equipment.

Then Nichols learned that her business wouldn’t be allowed to reopen on Friday.

“We’re not a giant theme park; we’re not a destination where we’ll pull people in from five hours away,” Nichols said. “We’re able to social distance between customers, clean clubs and balls between customers.

“We are furious and disappointed, and there’s no rationale.”

According to Jonathan Sterne, a spokesman for Empire State Development — the state’s economic development arm — there are reasons why the state has decided to ask mini-golf businesses to hold off on reopening for another week-and-a-half.

“Mini-golf courses are inherently smaller, and therefore harder to properly social distance, and generally also involve the communal use of equipment — two factors that had been less than ideal in the early and mid-stages of this pandemic in New York,” he said. “Under current guidance, mini-golf courses will be allowed to open in any region in Phase 3 or higher on July 6.”

Phase 4 opened the doors to low-risk indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment businesses, film and TV production, higher education and professional sports without fans to restart operations. Initially, Nichols thought Boots and Birdies would be included in Phase 4 as an outdoor entertainment business.

Last month, the owners of the Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf course across the street announced that the business would not reopen this summer, and the attraction’s roadside sign was taken down. That left Nichols’ business as one of the last remaining mini-golf spots in the area.

Now, with her reopening now pushed to July 6 per state guidelines, Nichols said she’s going to lose out on the busiest week of the summer — the week of Fourth of July — and she’s faced with either paying her employees out of pocket, without having any income, or laying them off again. All the while, the business has been turning away customers for weeks.

This week, Nichols stopped turning away customers — but someone quickly reported them, and Essex County swiftly cracked down on the business.

“We’re really hurting,” she said. “To lose the Fourth of July week is so beyond disappointing.

“They’re killing us. Seasonal businesses are fragile as it is. I don’t know if we’ll survive this.”

Nichols joins countless other business owners across the state that are struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic. At least 140,000 businesses listed on Yelp around the country remain closed because of the pandemic and public health guidelines designed to protect people from exposure to the virus, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Of the businesses listed on Yelp that have closed since March 1, at least 41% of them have closed their doors permanently, according to Yelp.


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