Albany Businesses Turn To Web Amid COVID-19 Closures

ACC learn to code at home

The coronavirus pandemic has essentially shut down everyday life for many in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the closure of or restricted the operations of schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theatres across the state – forcing Capital Region residents and businesses alike to get creative in order to stay active.

At least 60 kids and their families “gathered” recently around their computers to tune into AlbanyCanCode instructor Stacy Bressette’s Facebook Live walkthrough of the coding program Scratch. Many chimed in via the comments about what background image they thought Bressette should use for her new Pong-like video game – all while creating their own games, asking questions, and sharing their decisions.

AlbanyCanCode CEO Annmarie Lanesey says the free online classes are part of an effort to keep shut-in kids and their families entertained amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“And I know the schools are doing a great job of providing what they can at this challenging time, and everything happening so quickly,” she notes. “But we thought that where we can provide any more help and lift to get children meaningful educational experiences – that we are going to quickly shift all of our attention to making that happen.”

She adds that shift was quick – but not easy. AlbanyCanCode moved its formal, workforce classes online as soon as BOCES classrooms and community colleges began to close, and worked with Spectrum to deploy WiFi to students in need. As for its free Facebook lessons, Lanesey says the nonprofit is taking things week-by-week, with schedules posted on its Facebook page. She expects to add adult classes soon, covering HTML, CSS, Python, and more.

“Because many people are out of work right now, this is the perfect opportunity for them to be building skills for the digital economy that’s ahead and already thrust upon us,” says Lanesey. “So we are looking to reach adults as well that want to become more digitally literate, and learn the skills of potentially becoming software sector employees in the future.”

AlbanyCanCode isn’t the only Capital Region business turning to Facebook. If coding isn’t your style, Heartspace Yoga & Healing Arts in Albany and Troy is offering free daily online yoga sessions. Ranging from Hatha yoga – heard here with instructor Martha Moscowitz – to gentle flow and sparkle yoga, studio owner Andrew Kasius says the classes are meant to bring the community together.

“Everybody’s feeling such stress and heaviness, and stress and anxiety is actually bad for your immune system,” he explains. “So how can we help to keep our clients/members healthy? Yoga, that’s what we like to do.”

Classes are planned a week in advance and posted on Facebook. Kasius says Heartspace is no stranger to offering free classes – the studio typically hosts free seminars at Albany’s Washington Park and Riverfront Park in Troy. But like a lot of area businesses, that doesn’t mean the studio isn’t feeling the heat. It’s selling gift cards to raise money for its basic expenses, and in the meantime, Kasius says the daily videos give instructors a chance to de-stress and stay active from the safety of their homes.

“And we’re trying to highlight each of our really amazing instructors – we have different teachers who stylistically vary, and they have students who enjoy seeing them. But we’re giving each of our teachers an opportunity to present a class every day,” he says.

Restaurant and bar employees are perhaps some of the hardest hit amid the closures. Albany Distilling Company Owner John Curtin says the distillery’s manufacturing sector remains strong, but admits some facets – like in-person tastings at its bar on Livingston Avenue – are essentially on hold. To bridge the gap and give staff a chance to work (if they like), Curtin says customers can now order some of the bar’s most popular cocktails, like Brooklyn Bourbon and Smoked Manhattan, to-go.

“A lot of it is people want to maintain some element of normalcy,” notes Curtin. “And it’s such a novel idea, I think that’s part of the appeal. The idea of getting a cocktail to go is pretty amusing.”

Customers can order online Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Curtin says all orders are for pick-up at the moment, with employees bringing bottled cocktails to customers’ cars to limit contact, but the company is exploring shipping drinks. Like many distilleries, Curtin says the company is also making hand sanitizer to address the growing shortage.

“We’re expecting a shipment of alcohol on Wednesday,” he says. “We’ll be reaching out to the fire department and hospitals and places that might have shortages and seeing what we can do – but if there’s anybody who has a dire need for it, please reach out to us.”

All three businesses say they appreciate the opportunity to give back. How long they’ll have to, of course, remains up in the air.