With local businesses still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers visited the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District in Bay Ridge Wednesday. It was the 21st stop of a commercial corridor tour he’s been on since Phase One.
“What I observed in Bay Ridge is they have a very strong local customer base that patronizes the businesses,” Peers said. “They’re fiercely loyal to their local small businesses, whether it’s Brooklyn Canine Club because they’re dropping off their dog, or it’s their favorite restaurant like Skinflints and having a party, or their favorite bar, [like] the Hideout.”
However, just like on other stops of his tour, Peers saw business owners who are struggling to stay open and to pay back rent.
“Small businesses generally aren’t looking to take out any more debt, especially when things are so uncertain,” he said. “We still have safety and health concerns. We still could be shut down again if things get really out of hand. They need grants and other types of cash support.”
Peers talked to restaurant owners about the complications of reopening indoor dining at 25 percent capacity.
“While it’s a welcome development, 25 percent is going to be tough for a lot of restaurants,” he said. “Hopefully, we will get to 50 percent, and more sooner rather than later. The new regulations around indoor dining are very confusing, so part of what we were trying to do was try to talk to some of the restaurants directly.”
Business owners told Peers they were also being hurt by overzealous enforcement of certain regulations.
“Government needs to be a partner with them,” Peers said. “They don’t need to wield the heavy enforcement hammer. That sentiment was echoed on Fifth Avenue too, because they’re getting SLA and other health inspections. Other city agencies too. They are doing the best they can and trying to interpret new conditions almost daily.”
According to Peers, there is also positive news for the BID, as its vacancy rate seemed lower compared to other corridors, including 86th Street.
“I talked to Pat Condren, who runs the Bay Ridge 86th Street BID,” he said. “They’ve seen a lot more business closures. Century 21 is the one we know about the most, but he said he saw a lot more. I think part of it might be just the fact some of the national chains are more likely to shut down, while some of the more local mom-and-pop businesses are making a go of it.”
Amanda Zenteno, executive director of the BID, said the Brooklyn Chamber has been very helpful regarding the regulations put in place during the pandemic.
“Each merchant has an individual story of struggles and triumphs,” she said. “With the help of the Brooklyn Chamber, we are able to provide personal attention that focuses on their concerns. Businesses need to know that we are all in their corner and here to fight for their continued success.”