(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
The small business ecosystem of the United States has become an unintended casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the early months of 2020, business owners have had to be nimble and creative in managing a virus that is sending shockwaves through most industries.
While one would hope the pressure would subside, a BLS report citing that 140,000 jobs were lost in December 2020—with a stubborn 6.7 percent unemployment rate—paints a picture that the economic woes brought on by this pandemic are not going anywhere any time soon.
New York City Businesses are Managing Unique Challenges
However, some cities are being hit harder than others, and the New York City area is seeing a surge in cases that could lead to another possible lockdown. In December, New York City saw over 10,000 new infections per week. This rapid increase in infections will continue to have a considerable impact on how businesses can function—especially restaurants.
Even before any lockdowns have been formally put into place, New York City residents see the writing on the wall, and many are deciding to skip out on activities like eating out, in-store shopping, and heading to the movies.
25% Capacity Levels Turn to Bans on Indoor Dining
The decrease in consumer activity has hit everyone hard, especially restaurant owners like Andrew Walcott, owner of Fusion East Restaurant, a Caribbean-themed eatery located in Brooklyn. In a recent AP article, which was reported in over 200 news outlets across the United States, Walcott discussed the hardships he and his business have faced while trying to stay afloat during this pandemic.
In September, Walcott had to set capacity levels at 25 percent to meet New York City’s indoor dining guidelines. However, he managed to still make 60 percent of his pre-pandemic revenue through takeout, deliveries, and the use of a brand new food truck.
He was even able to bring back his 15-person staff. However, things took a less profitable turn in December when the surges began again. Now, customers are no longer allowed inside and have to wait for food while enduring potentially below freezing temperatures this winter. Also, due to layoffs, only Walcott, a manager, head chef, and occasional part-time staff are left.
Walcott told the Associated Press, “You still got to pay rent; you still got to pay insurance, you still got to pay real estate taxes. You still have fixed bills every month.” Navigating this new challenging normal for business owners like Walcott is proving to be increasingly difficult, while fixed costs like rent and taxes are still required to be paid.
Thousands of Business Closures
In August, the New York Times reported that 2,800 businesses in New York City had permanently closed since March 1, 2020. Unfortunately, this number has likely rapidly increased through the winter months. Nevertheless, even if restaurants and other small businesses do not have to shut their doors indefinitely, many are facing a landscape that looks like Walcott’s.
However, some restauranteurs are taking action and placing the blame on Governor Andrew Cuomo. A group of 70 New York bars and restaurants are filing a lawsuit against Cuomo because they allege that the ever-evolving dining regulations infringe on their civil rights.
There have also been efforts to stop an indoor dining ban, which is still ongoing.
Government Funding May or May Not Make a Difference
While things continue to look rocky in New York City, Congress recently passed the newest $908 billion COVID-19 relief bill to offer subsidies to businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic. This funding includes another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans—totaling $284 billion— and 20 billion dollar grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program.
While these efforts may offer help in the interim, it’s hard to say how much of an impact these loans will have since reports have revealed that some small businesses only received $99 and even one dollar of PPP loan funding in the past.
Relief for business owners like Walcott may very well come in the form of society getting back to normal with the help of vaccines and other public health strategies. In the meantime, New York City’s small business owners will have to continue to move through an unsteady economic background and hope for strategies that curb the primary reason for these issues: the pandemic itself.
Fusion East is one of those restaurants that has been innovative, using their food truck, deliveries, pickup and digital marketing to remain afloat during these tough times.
Fusion East is located at 1179 Elton St., steps from the Elton St. entrance of the Gateway Mall, in East New York. Call 718-975-5065 for catering orders, deliveries and pickup orders. You can also book their new food truck for social distancing events.