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Hochul visits Niagara County as region hopes Phase Three comes next week

WBFO/Michael Mroziak

Five of New York State's economic regions will enter Phase Three of reopening Friday, including the Finger Lakes and Central New York regions. Western New York could be eligible as early as next Tuesday. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul visited Niagara County Thursday, bringing a message of hope but also continued calls to honor social distancing and wearing of masks in public.

Hochul's stops included two businesses along Niagara Falls, New York's Pine Avenue Business District, which many consider the Cataract City's real "main street." Many businesses are already open, but some including nail salons, massage therapy and restaurants without outdoor seating are eager to join them as establishments eligible to open under Phase Three.

"The hospitality, the restaurants, hotels, the entertainment facilities are really some of the hardest-hit industries and that's the core of a place like Niagara Falls. We have to bring them back but we have to do it in a way that's smart," Hochul said. "That's why we're encouraging people to continue wearing the mask, social distancing - stay in just small groups, particularly your family members and people you've been quarantined with for a long time - because we've come too far to take any steps backward."

Guidelines for restaurants and personal care services were prepared earlier in the week, Hochul stated. She also believes with outdoor dining already allowed, with spacing restrictions, the transition into Phase Three should be the smoothest transition yet.

"The first phase, we knew, was going to be limited. It was construction. It was manufacturing. Many of them had already been up and running. They've been following the rules for essential businesses. Phase Two, we had to make sure that our numbers were in the right place, so we did not issue information much in advance of that phase," she said. "But I'm very happy to report that Phase Three, which we hope to be entering, the guidance has been out since last Tuesday."

Many shops have been open along the Pine Avenue strip, but their storefronts have been boarded up fo more than a week. That came as a response to rumors that agitators were planning to cause trouble in the guise of police brutality protests and perhaps spark a round of looting and vandalism.

Credit WBFO/Michael Mroziak
Many shops along Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls have been open for business, but boarded up since last week following online rumors of potential vandalism and looting. That never occurred, and as Western New York anticipates Phase Three of reopening next week, stores are looking to remove the boarding from their windows and doors.

It never happened.

"They recognized that it was much of a reaction to social media instead of official accounts," said Mayor Robert Restaino, who met with Hochul Thursday. Work will get underway to remove the boarding from storefronts but the mayor noted that the same contractor who put up the added protection is now being inundated with calls to take it down.

"We've had conversations with the Pine Avenue Business Group," he said. "They recognize the need to remove the boards that they had placed up. I'm confident that over the course of the next couple of days that's going to happen. I've been assured by members of the business association, as well as by a couple of those businesses that I know myself."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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