PARK SLOPE — Like many, a local beloved small running shop is suffering due to the coronavirus crisis that has demanded residents to practice social distancing and stay indoors.
The Brooklyn Running Company, which has locations in Williamsburg, 222 Grand St., and Park Slope, 480 Bergen St., had to shutdown on Monday, March 16, resulting in laying off 15 part-time employees.
The stores are independent and owner-operated running shops that serve as a resource and community hub for the local running community.
The tough decision
Co-owner Matthew Rosetti discussed the difficult decision that was made to close the stores and the impact it will have on the once thriving small business.
“We had to take the unfortunate and swift move of letting go or temporarily putting all of our part timers on unpaid leave,” he explained. “We did what we could to pay them through the week they worked. So we complied with New York City paid leave policies. We accelerated everyone into eligibility unless they were not yet eligible so we did the best we could, but the simple reality is that’s not enough and these folks are now worried about rent, where they’re going to stay. I think we all are hopeful we will see some federal relief in the number of bills coming out of DC.”
He described the situation as, “an existential moment for our business and like so many others, you can’t really prepare for something like this.”
Rosetti added that little could have been done for the shop to prevent this outcome.
“If you look at what you could have done to better fortify your business and the only conclusion I can come up with is basically maintain six months to a year of operating expenses in cash in the bank account in case something like this happens, which no small or moderate size business could even think about pulling off so it’s an impossible thing to plan for,” he said.
The store remains in operation through pick-up orders made via the phone or on their website.
“What has been really cool is that in Park Slope, which has been only open for a few months, we have six separate distinct running clubs and crews running out of our location on Saturdays and Sundays night,” he explained.
The missing experience
Despite still being in operation, the highlight of the stores’ experiences is missing for locals.
“Our model is the absolute opposite of what’s happening now,” Rosetti said. “It’s about building community and contact with people. That’s why it’s jarring for us that we can’t bring these folks together. We were using our shops as a community clubhouse. They could drop their bags, come in, stretch, go for a run in Prospect Park, pick up their stuff and then come back. That’s all been broken down so we can no longer offer that. It has been a community clubhouse for runners and fitness enthusiasts in Williamsburg for since 2013.”
Although Rosetti and company plan to open in the near future, a date hasn’t been provided.
“I see others say they are planning on opening on March 23 and I’m just thinking, ‘How would that happen?’ It’s indefinite,” he explained. “We’ve continued to pay and not let go of any of our full-time staff. We don’t plan to but, now this is an adapt or die moment. We’ve been planning to launch our new e-commerce business for some time and it’s never going to be our core business but it will help get us through the days and we will do that tomorrow. We have seen incredible outreach through the community and they are asking what we can do for us. Just shop with us even if it’s a different way.”
Although they remain taking orders, employees’ safety is paramount to Rosetti.
“The most important thing is our employees are comfortable doing this ,” he said. “If they feel comfortable walking or riding a bike then we’ll put them on that ship. If they have to interact in any way that would put them in danger, then we shut that down. It’s very collaborative.”
Elected officials respond
Local elected officials also chimed in the uncertainty small businesses face.
“The coronavirus crisis is a catastrophe for Brooklyn’s beloved small businesses,” said Councilmember Brad Lander, who represents Park Slope. “In order for us to save lives and do everything we can to reduce the spread of the virus to make sure our hospitals are not taxed way beyond their capacity, we have to engage in social distancing right now. However, it is toxic in so many ways in our lives and businesses. We love our local independently owned businesses in Brooklyn. We are so lucky to have them and of course they can’t survive for long if they’re not open for their customers.”
He added that, “The city is working hard to start up some programs and we are all advocating for stronger advocacy as well as the suspension of different kinds of payment and debt but this is going to hurt a lot. We are only just starting to feel how much.”
Lander told this paper he has also spoken to locals.
“I’ve talked to a bunch of people that have been laid off,” he continued. “Obviously I understand a store’s not going to be able to be open can’t keep paying your workers if you don’t have deep pockets. Then you have workers that get laid off from a store and they still have to pay their rent and buy food so for businesses and workers, there have been catastrophic consequences and crises are felt all over the city and world.”
“Significant parts of our business community are experiencing disruptions from COVID19,” added Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, who represents Williamsburg. “It is an extreme hardship for those that have to fully shut down. I am advocating to my colleagues as well as all federal, state and local government officials that relief packages must address all sectors of business shuttered because of the coronavirus and their employees as well – no matter if employees are full-time, part-time, freelance, independent, or have no status. No one harmed can be left out of receiving help during this challenge.”
Rosetti remains hopeful that help is on the way.
“I think what the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce is doing is great,” he said. “Randy (Peers) is trying to be proactive and trying to do what you would think a chamber to do which is serve as a voice for their members. They’re hosting calls twice a week along with many other things with the members hearing their concerns, getting from the boots on the ground to hear what they have been focusing on.”
He added, “As long as banks continue to lend into this crisis and are back stopped by the federal government even though loan guarantees or grants, then the whole chain will continue to work.”