Brooklyn Boro

Small businesses lose employment gains amid COVID crisis: report

NYC comptroller proposes policy-based aid strategies

December 4, 2020 Raanan Geberer

Small businesses are the backbone of the city’s neighborhoods, have employed hundreds of thousands of workers, and have been a way for low-income New Yorkers to enter the middle class. However, the COVID pandemic has threatened to wipe out these gains.

A report by the city Comptroller’s Office details the effect of the coronavirus on small businesses and offers proposals to reverse those effects. The report, which is called “Save Main Street,” also offers some fascinating statistics that break down trends borough by borough, and in some cases neighborhood by neighborhood.

There are currently 66,133 small businesses in the city. Before the pandemic, employment in these businesses citywide steadily grew from 451,566 in 2001 to 694,119 in 2019 — and then it fell to 428,166 as of this May. In Brooklyn, the number of small businesses in the borough grew 36 percent from 2009 to 2019, a growth that is now threatened by the coronavirus.

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Brooklyn has many immigrant neighborhoods, and foreign-born New Yorkers own 63 percent of all small businesses in Brooklyn, according to the report. In fact, in every borough, the majority of small businesses are immigrant-owned. In addition, 12 percent of the small businesses in Brooklyn are Black-owned.

Census data from 2017 shows those neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of the local residents are employed by small businesses. Among those neighborhoods are Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Sunset Park, and parts of Bed-Stuy and Greenpoint — all neighborhoods with strong immigrant populations.

What type of businesses are we talking about? “Bars and barber shops, restaurants and retail stores, coffee shops and bodegas — all help to define what makes New York City special and all are struggling to stay afloat as our economy sputters back to life,” the report reads.

Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill is one of Brooklyn’s neighborhood shopping streets, with small stores on the ground floor and residences above.

While some might think the coronavirus might actually improve the fortunes of small stores, since more people have to stay at home, the report says this isn’t necessarily the case. “[The fact that more of people’s time will be spend in their own neighborhoods] will place a greater demand on local streets, sidewalks, plazas, bike racks, garbage collection, seating, public bathrooms, parks, playgrounds, libraries, and so many other public goods and amenities that make our neighborhoods lively and functional,” it reads.

The report, chartered by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, offers several recommendations to increase these businesses’ chances of survival. They include:

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  • Having a door-to-door outreach team to help small business owners tap into the remaining $150 billion in the Paycheck Protection Program
  • Providing tax credits for independent businesses to help cover reopening costs
  • Creating an NYC Tech Corps to help small businesses adopt digital tools and to develop an online presence
  • Abolishing private fixers, or “expeditors,” at the Department of Buildings, who charge extra fees to help business owners navigate city bureaucracy
  • Allowing businesses a “cure period” to address and fix violations
  • Allowing SNAP benefits (aka food stamps) to be used at restaurants, as several other states do currently
  • Relaxing liquor regulations and eliminating the city tax on liquor licenses
  • Capping the fees charged by third-party food delivery companies
  • Extending the moratorium on commercial evictions and providing legal assistance to businesses involved in legal disputes

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