Opinions & observations: Save our small businesses

Originally published in Brooklyn Reporter on June 30, 2020.

People choose to live in New York City for our unique neighborhoods, our culture, the people. A huge part of all of that is the small, local businesses that make New southern Brooklyn a great place to live.

The COVID-19 crisis has come for our small businesses in a previously unimaginable way. Already under threat from rising rents and online retail, mom and pop shops and our favorite local restaurants have been forced to dig deep to stay afloat.

Some local favorites have already closed, and more will likely do so in the months ahead.

 

The Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has helped, but not enough. In a city like New York with massive rents and overhead costs, the PPP initially required that 75% go to payroll. Now it is 60%. I and other NYC colleagues had raised objections to the 75% threshold, noting that it is unrealistic in a city with such high rents and overhead costs.

Some of these factors are outside of the city or state’s control. There’s no skirting the fact that in every level of government, we urgently need federal funds right now.

Yet some of these factors are very much within the city’s control – and it has failed.

First, the City failed to offer guidance to restaurants on re-opening until far too close to Phase 2, failing to give restaurants sufficient time to plan or prepare.

 

Then, we were given conflicting information and no clear criterion for when, exactly, Phase 2 would begin, leading to widespread confusion, until finally, at the last minute, it was confirmed that we would move to Phase 2 on June 22.

Many small businesses are still struggling with confusing and conflicting information about the phase that they will be able to open in – and why.

I have started a Small Business Recovery Advisory Group to hear directly from businesses about how we can help them through this difficult time. And I have sponsored legislation that would mandate that insurance companies pay for the business interruption from Covid, and legislation that would lower the sales tax for goods purchased at mom and pop shops.

There’s much more to do, and we will need strong leadership that prioritizes small businesses – and does everything possible to help them succeed despite the odds.

 

The truth is, our small businesses – the stores, offices, bars, and restaurants that make our neighborhoods so great – will need more than just rules, regulations, and protocols to manage the post-covid world. They need a sustained commitment from all of us that we will do whatever it takes to help them survive.

Are we willing to order a take-out over the phone instead of through an app so our favorite restaurant doesn’t have to pay a 30% commission to a faceless tech company?

When stores were shut, we were forced to order essential goods online from Amazon and other e-retailers – are we now willing to sacrifice the convenience of ordering stuff online so we can shop local and help a neighbor put food on their table, too?

If we say we care about our small business, then we have to be willing to do these things and more. Covid has taken so much from our city. We have to fight with everything we have to stop it from taking our beloved local businesses, too.