Business owners from Brooklyn and other boroughs met at the Salty Dog bar and grill on Wednesday to discuss their concerns about the city’s reopening schedule and the effects it will have on their businesses.
Phase two, which includes outdoor dining, is slated to begin on Monday, June 22, However, Mayor Bill de Blasio advised caution during his Tuesday press conference.
“We need to provide answers on that timeline,” he said. “So, that means over the next week or 10 days, we have to fill in as many of those blanks as humanly possible. But I’ve been very clear, and I said it yesterday, that I’m not saying June 22, which is the earliest, official date, according to state guidance, because I do not want to unduly raise expectations.”
He later added that July may be a more realistic date for phase two.
“I said July because I wanted to keep expectations a little lower,” he said. “But if we can get there sooner, of course, if the state and the city agree and we think it’s safe, of course.”
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis discussed the importance of bringing back local restaurants before many of them shutter for good.
“Kim Chee is closing after nearly 20 years [in Bay Ridge],” she said. “These restaurants can’t survive if they don’t reopen soon. The bottom line is we need the mayor to take action and not delay the process anymore.
“The mayor discussed possibly postponing phase two until early July. That is unacceptable. We need to get to June 22.
“They need indoor dining as well. We don’t want the mayor to give an additional burden on these restaurants when they reopen.”
George Kabbez, owner of the Salty Dog, 7509 Third Ave., discussed the situation.
“We can’t survive at the rate they’re releasing things,” he said. “We figured we’d rally the Brooklyn base but it ended up being people from Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan plus salons, shop owners and real estate owners. We’re done. We need to get back to business. The way they are proposing the phasing is just not going to be satisfactory to us.”
Kabbez also said that having only outdoor seating isn’t a solution to local restaurants’ financial issues.
“Outdoor with no indoor service doesn’t work for anybody,” he said “It’s just a band aid. We need to be open in the next phase with outdoor to help with loss of revenue. Everything is coming due. Sales tax, water bills, property tax bills, and are they forgoing any of this? No. They are going to want their money. How are we going to give you our money if we can’t make money?”
State Senator Andrew Gounardes responded to the concerns.
“I hear them loud and clear and am starting a small business recovery task force to aid small businesses as they return from this crisis,” he said. “We need to bring our small businesses back safely and as soon as possible.”
Councilmember Justin Brannan said that he met with frustrated small business and restaurant owners in the neighborhood.
“The sentiment in the room was ‘we complied, we followed the rules, we helped flatten the curve – can we please get back to making a living now?’” he wrote. “I’ve said this before and it needs to be said over and over again until our governor and our mayor understand it: small businesses have borne the financial brunt of this virus in unique and terrible ways. They’re not big enough to be bailed out, they’ve been unable to operate or have been only able to operate at a fraction of their capacity, and they are now facing a phased reopening with benchmarks and timelines that, frankly, aren’t very clear at all.”
Brannan did acknowledge that business owners will have to deal with financial difficulty for a long time.
“These small business owners, our neighbors, will be digging themselves out of a hole for the foreseeable future,” he said.
He also said actions could be taken to make the burden easier, such as reimbursing business owners for licenses that they paid for but couldn’t use for the past three months; giving them relief on fees, penalties, and payments normally owed to the city and state; making sure their insurance companies pay out on business interruption insurance claims; and giving them more access to low-interest loans or grant programs.
“Certainly, at the absolute minimum, making sure we do not subject them to insane levels of bureaucracy, red tape, and needless fees and expenses when this is all done,” he said.
“Small businesses of every kind did what was asked of them and the Mayor paid them back by forming eighteen commissions, giving zero guidance, and inexcusable arrogance,” added U.S. Rep. Max Rose. “Small businesses can’t just flip on a switch and serve customers on day one, especially bars and restaurants. They needed guidance two months ago, and somehow they still don’t have it. The complete lack of understanding and empathy for what they are going through is government sanctioned cruelty.”
“We need to get vocal because it doesn’t seem that anyone is listening to what is going on about the small businesses,” Kabbez said. “They’re going to desecrate all five boroughs if they keep going the way they are going. It has to stop.”