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Ashley Santacroce, owner of Classy Cab in Greenport. (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

March is Women’s Month, when we pay tribute to the achievements of American women past and present. But this year the celebration is bittersweet: March also marks one year since the declaration of a state of emergency in New York and a pandemic that has been difficult if not devastating for many working women.

To recognize the resilience of women this year, we talked to three local women in different industries about the work they do, how Covid forced them to adjust and why they still found joy and satisfaction in their jobs.

You can read more interviews with local workers of all stripes in the Times Review Media Group’s Business magazine, out this week at locations across the East End. This guide also contains listings for North Fork businesses in an array of categories, so you can shop local for whatever task it is you need done.

Lori Panarello, owner/stylist, Craft Hair

“I’ve been in the hair industry for a long time. From when I was a kid, I was always into art — drawing, sculpting, creating things. And to me, hair was about creation. You get amazing satisfaction out of making people look and feel good. Because I really believe that when you feel good about the way you look, you feel good inside. 

Previously, I was global artistic director for KMS Hair. I traveled all over the world, doing hair shows and teaching. I did hair for New York Fashion Week. And I ran my salon in Woodbury at the same time — I’ve been there 18 years and have 35 employees.

My wife and I bought a summer home here in Mattituck about eight years ago, and all those years I’ve been trying to figure out, When’s the right time to open up a salon? And somehow in this year of COVID, the opportunity presented itself. And now I’m living out here full time, too.

Lori Panarello in her Greenport salon, Craft Hair. (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

We have been nonstop busy. I’m here three days a week and I’m at the other salon two days a week. And I brought two girls here, Monica and Cole, from my other salon; they also go back and forth and they are doing fantastic.

We do every type of hair, but because of my fashion background, we have a finger on the pulse of what’s new and trending. Your hair always reflects what’s going on in the world. Right now, on the one hand, we’re letting go of excess. You have women going back to gray or natural texture, simple bobs. On the other hand, you have people that have been bored in the house and ready for stimulation and change. It’s two extremes.

In this time of COVID, we’re also taking every precaution to keep safe. We’ll do early-morning appointments. We’re very careful not to have too many people in the salon at one time, we have dividers and are tested every week.

I have to say, there is something so magical about working in a small salon in a small town. People have been beyond wonderful recommending us. It’s nice to be a part of the community. That’s something that you miss when you’re in the city, and it makes you want to give back.”

— as told to Sara Austin

Ashley Santacroce, owner, Classy Cab

“I’ve been running the company since May of 2018. Living in the area all my life, I’ve seen what a demand there is for taxis. We have so many things going on and with Uber and Lyft not really being a thing here, people have no way to get around, which results in more accidents and more DWIs. 

When I started the company, I was working at Eastern Long Island Hospital in a laboratory. It grew to the point where I said, ‘You know what, I’m going all in.’ I went full time with the business and ever since then, it’s been very successful. It’s definitely been a blessing.

Of course, with the pandemic, things are different. We’ve had to make a lot of changes just for the safety of our employees, but also our customers. Presently we’re running three vehicles, and I have four employees — some do the local, some do the out of town. We’ve revised the hours because the vehicles need to be cleaned and disinfected. Right now, our day starts at 8 a.m., and we end with the curfew that was placed on restaurants and bars [by the state].

Ashley Santacroce, owner of Classy Cab in Greenport. (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

Sometimes I act as dispatcher, sometimes I drive, depending on where I’m needed. Every day, you expect the unexpected. You could go into New Jersey one day, you can be doing a wine tour for one day. You go to different destinations and explore places that you never knew existed, as well as meeting all types of people from around the world. It’s very exciting and interesting to have conversations with those people, asking, ‘How did you hear about Greenport?’

I’ve found that the most appreciated thing about this company is we have no limits as to what we will do. I have people who call saying they want food delivered or they want their elderly parent taken to the doctor. After a while of people dealing with the company, it becomes more personal, and that makes the relationship and the ride that much better. They know when they call, they can rely on us. We will do whatever makes things easier, and that customer service has really made a difference in people’s lives.”

— as told to Sara Austin

Michelle Demetillo, hospitality and community manager, North Fork Brewing Company

“My job duties vary. My main priority is making sure that the tasting room is functional and clean, that all of our customers coming in are having a great experience and a fun experience in this environment. We have a 2-acre farm in Peconic, and whatever hops we can use from that, we do. Typically we have 12 beers on tap, so there’s a variety of beers for people to choose from. I also help with social media, marketing, some administrative duties and events. 

I dated a brewer and that’s how I got introduced to the craft beer world. I worked part time at Moustache Brewing down the road, then left to work in marketing. Peter, one of the owners, actually also worked at Moustache as an assistant brewer. When he opened the brewery, he asked me if I wanted to come on board. I loved this industry, so I wanted to come back to it.

Since we opened in 2018, it’s definitely been an amazing experience to watch the growth and the development of not only this brewery, but this area as well. We are in the old Riverhead firehouse. It was built in the late 1800s. It stayed vacant for about 10 years until we signed the lease on this property.

Michelle Demetillo, community manager at North Fork Brewing Company. (Photo Credit: David Benthal)

It’s not like your average bar. I think breweries in general are community hubs. It gives people a place to meet, and just have fun and connect. We’ve had a book club meet here before. It’s a place where people can really connect and have genuine, authentic conversation. That’s another thing I love about the industry, is sharing organic conversation with people who come here.

With the pandemic, I think we, as a business, have stayed on our toes while trying to be creative, open-minded and innovative. Of course, the tasting room is operating at limited capacity. However, the demand has increased for packaging our beer and that area has certainly seen a surge. 

In my position, it’s important to continually connect with our patrons and, thankfully, the internet makes it easy. Every business is competing in the same space for a customer’s attention, but we’re lucky that, in our industry, we can be fun and clever in many ways to attract an audience and keep them engaged.

I love the beer industry. It’s all about community. And it’s very creative, making beers, naming beers. Obviously, there’s friendly competition all around in the industry. But I think for the most part we’re just very supportive, and we’re all in it for the same reason: making great, artisanal craft beer and wanting people to enjoy it.”

As told to Tara Smith