SUNSET PARK — Sunset Park is trying to stay strong despite local businesses suffering due to the closures of restaurants, bars caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Sunset Park Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) Executive Director David Estrada discussed the issues that the neighborhood’s merchants and residents have been facing since all city restaurants and bars closed to customers except for food take-out and delivery.
The struggle of small merchants
“Our small merchants have been vulnerable already with small margins and reduced retail trade and this if is as serious as everyone is saying, my real fear is that it’s hard to find ways to help small businesses that are not operating with cash reserves and a large margin,” he told this paper. “I don’t doubt it’s the serious and correct thing to do. We will see lasting and permanent damage especially to the smallest non national brand local merchants.”
Estrada talked to several local merchants who have felt the pressure to close, especially food and drink establishments that are very pressed now with the official closing.
“There are promising moves by the Department of Small Business Services to offer grants or no interest loans to businesses, and I think even at the federal level, everyone’s intention is very strong to help preserve businesses but some of them are too vulnerable and hanging on by a thread as it is,” he said. “Even if substantial help arrives, it may well be too late for a lot of these businesses and the employees and their families and businesses. All those people patronize. The chain reaction is going to be felt for some time.”
Businesses inform locals of closures
The Sunset Park BID’S social media accounts have been sharing photos of several storefronts with signs outside.
Mcdonald’s, 5121 5th Ave., posted a sign stating, “implementing the restriction in accordance with the governor’s regulation.”
Burger King, 5212-15 5th Ave., simply stated, “Take out only. Thank you.”
Capital One, 5001 5th Ave., informed customers that the branch is temporarily closed.
On a more local level, a sign on Amy Nail Salon, 4013 5th Ave. stated, “we are taking precautions to assure that we and our customers remain healthy, so we are closing from 3/16 to 3/31.”
Due to the shortage, Ideal Pharmacy, 5409 5th Ave., posted instructions on how to create your own hand sanitizer.
“People talk about Sunset Park being all walks of work community, but it’s also a walk to shop community,” Estrada said. “The majority of people drive to other communities to shop so I was very happy to see the local produce market and bodegas and smaller food establishments on Sunset Park looking well stock, struggling to keep up but getting food into people’s pantries. That’s positive.”
The struggles will continue
He also discussed the issues Sunset Park will face as weeks go by with social distance recommendations and potential lockdowns.
“A lot of us don’t have the option to spend extra on food to buy for a lot of months,” he explained. “A lot of us are on fixed or limited income and limited transportation access. They really need modest quantities of food at a time for their families.
There is hope as many locals have reached out to the BID to ask if there is any way that can help those that are in need of food and supplies.
“I received calls from people that want to donate things or organize community response action,” Estrada said. “I think when the initial shock of how serious this is passes, we are going to be encouraged by the resilience of the community and groups that want to help just as what we saw with the ICE raids, fire on 44th Street. New Yorkers band together and Sunset Park is no exception.”
However, the fear of businesses suffering long term remains.
“Businesses are going to suffer and my heart is heavy for stores and shops that have just opened,” Estrada explained.
“They went through stock and inventory and staffing up only to be shut down. We are going to have to look for creative solutions for significant help that is readily available for businesses or we will see a number of businesses close and I don’t doubt that.”
As far as help from the government, he added, “Before the shutdown, the city had already announced grants for small businesses and low interest loans. You have to have the wherewithal to carry the administrative overhead to qualify for such things. It’s public money and there’s an amount of fiscal responsibility that goes with this. The bar is just too high for a business to accurately document a certain percentage of business loss compared to this quarter last year. Easier said than done for small business.”