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Complaints about non-essential businesses operating tops 7,000 

The storefront windows of a pair of competing hair salons on South Clinton Avenue were blacked out last week. One was covered by sheets of red, black, and white paper. The other had black curtains concealing the interior.

From the right vantage points, though, one could glimpse beyond the barriers to see that lights were on. Listen closely enough, too, and intermittent chatter and the whir of hair dryers could be heard. Wait long enough, and visitors — customers? — entered and exited.

The barriers were removed in recent days to reveal darkened and empty salons after a complaint was lodged with authorities about at least one of them operating in violation of a state order that shuttered non-essential businesses to help contain the spread of coronavirus.

The state Attorney General’s Office has received more than 7,000 such complaints about non-essential businesses and sent formal cease-and-desist orders to 35 of them, according to the office.

Non-essential businesses — like salons, gyms, movie theaters, and more — that violate the executive order could face stiff penalties. Specifically, the order decrees that any violation shall be punishable as set forth in Public Health Law Section 12, which imposes a civil penalty of up to $2,000.

But no fines have been imposed to date, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

A spokeswoman for the office explained that most complaints are handled with a saber-rattling phone call from the office or a county health department that prompts businesses to stop operating. She said the office could also file a restraining order against an offending business to shut it down and financial penalties could result.

On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo extended his order, known as “New York State on PAUSE,” to May 15, all but ensuring those non-essential businesses another four weeks without a customer.

Recently, Irondequoit Sports Center, an indoor sports facility, made news for hosting a workout showcase for NFL hopefuls in what was reportedly a contradiction to the order and guidelines on physical distancing.

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said while the county has received some complaints and issued warnings, but no fines. A county spokesperson said if the offending business persists, it could face punishment from its local code enforcement office up to a loss of occupancy.

“Generally, we do education first, then enforcement second,” Bello said, during a press conference Monday afternoon. “That would be the steps law enforcement would take. Generally, we want to try and educate people before giving a fine.”

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. They can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com and gfanelli@rochester-citynews.com.

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