Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn businesses brace for coronavirus fallout

March 13, 2020 Mary Frost
Owners of the Grand Canyon Restaurant, Cesar Rendon, left, and Victor Carreto, said business was normal at the Montague Street burger joint amid the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Some businesses across Brooklyn have already started feeling the pain from the novel coronavirus outbreak, even as officials warn it has barely begun.

The outbreak has proven to be especially tragic for restaurants and shops in Asian neighborhoods like Sunset Park, where four popular restaurants have already closed their doors.

Small businesses will likely be hit harder than large companies, according to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which on Thursday launched a COVID-19 Small Business Task Force.

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This is especially alarming to the borough because 84 percent of Brooklyn’s 61,300 businesses have fewer than 10 employees, according to the office of the State Comptroller.

Business groups like the Montague Street BID in Brooklyn Heights have sent out e-blasts reminding shoppers that New York City is still open for business. Small businesses there are still doing okay, but are holding their breath for what may be around the corner.

Lunch hour business was good on Friday at Grand Canyon Restaurant on Montague Street, where judges, lawyers, actors and everyday residents were enjoying the eatery’s popular burgers and Mexican food. Victor Carreto, who co-owns the restaurant with Cesar Rendon, says the coronavirus outbreak has not seemed to have much impact so far.

Grand Canyon has taken extra measures to clean, employees are constantly washing their hands and nobody is sick, he said. The restaurant now has small bottles of hand sanitizer on every table.

“We do extra cleaning. We do what we have to and plus,” he said. “I thank every customer. They still believe in us and trust in us.”


Yefim Slusker, known as Jimmy, owner of Peerless Shoe Service on Montague Street since 1991, said his business hasn’t been affected yet by the virus. He proudly displayed his immaculately clean workshop where Wall Streeters, movie stars and opera singers come to have their shoes made by hand. In his display case, magazines show photos of footwear designed for filmmaker Peter Beard, opera singer Placido Domingo and others. A fashion magazine described one handmade pair as “an extraordinary feat of design.”

Slusker says business is normal. “I wash my hands maybe 60 times a day. Business is okay. People are very good,” he said.

Yefim Slusker, the owner of Peerless Shoe Repair on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights said business during the coronavirus pandemic has been normal. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Yefim Slusker, the owner of Peerless Shoe Repair on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights said business during the coronavirus pandemic has been normal. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Estela Johannesen, owner of James Weir Floral Company, was in a rush. But she took a moment to say her shop was “Okay, so far. We’ll see.”

Big flower companies are doing terrible, she said — “100 percent less” — because they cater large events which are being cancelled. Small shops like hers are still hanging in there selling their “five-dollar bundles,” and people are still getting married.

“In these times, the best and the worst comes out of people, and right now it’s been the worst,” she said.

Cafes like Gregorys Coffee are reassuring customers that they have implemented new sanitary measures and have taken actions like shutting down their condiment stations to avoid spreading the virus. Most nightclubs in hipster Brooklyn say they are remaining open and parties are going on as planned, so long as visiting artists and DJs are able to make it to New York City. Under new emergency regulations, however, restaurants and bars in New York City are restricted to 50 percent occupancy to allow more space between people.

Officials have been making highly publicized visits to dine at dim sum parlors, and at a press conference for community and ethnic media on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraged healthy New Yorkers to eat out at restaurants — while still avoiding crowded subway trains and other packed venues.

De Blasio has said the city is not asking that businesses close down because of the enormous economic disruption this would cause, but did encourage as much working from home as possible (along with the familiar exhortations to wash hands with soap and water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer in between washings, don’t touch your face and cough into your elbow).

James Weir Floral Co. on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights has been maintaining steady business during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
James Weir Floral Co. on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights has been maintaining steady business during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

The city has launched a program allowing businesses with fewer than 100 employees to apply for an interest free loan of up to $75,000 if they are able to provide proof of a 25 percent loss in customer receipts due to the coronavirus, de Blasio said. Businesses with fewer than ten employees are also eligible for direct grants.

With its task force, the Brooklyn Chamber is scrambling to gather reliable, real-time information as conditions are expected to change rapidly in the upcoming days, President Randy Peers said in a statement.

The task force consists of ten small businesses that represent different sectors of the borough’s economy. The organization will document the panel’s experiences by holding a twice-weekly call, asking questions related to business conditions and challenges the businesses are facing.

The data will be used to determine what support and information small businesses need to survive the challenges related to the outbreak. It will also be presented to legislators and policy makers to inform them about how small businesses are being impacted.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 154 confirmed coronavirus cases in New York City.

To receive text updates from the city, text COVID to 692-692.


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