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Brooklyn small businesses in Omicron era: down but not out

December 29, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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A reduction in holiday sales, a reduction of indoor activities and an increase in the number of employees calling in sick were among the results of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s recent survey of the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on local businesses. 

Indeed, some 77% reported a reduction in holiday sales, 59% reported employees calling in sick, and 46% reported a reduction of people participating in such indoor activities as dining and shopping. 

At the same time, however, an overwhelming majority of businesses, 94%, support the New York State mask mandate. In addition, the businesses report that more than 90% of all employees are vaccinated, and more than half are regularly tested.

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Most of the businesses also enforce either the state’s mask mandate and/or have a vaccination requirement in place. Only a small number of businesses, 20% of those surveyed, temporarily closed for a period of time over the holidays.

“Omicron has taken all of us by surprise, and the toll on small businesses during this holiday season has been staggering,” said Randy Peers, president & CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “Just when many of our small businesses were hoping to make up some ground for losses incurred throughout the pandemic, they now face another uncertain winter as we head into 2022.”

“Our surveys have been an important information lifeline for Brooklyn’s small business community,” said Lorraine Lowe, director of membership at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.  “Throughout the pandemic, we have polled our businesses continually so that we can tell the story of how COVID has continued to impact our local economy.”

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Randy Peers unveils a new program to provide micro loans for small businesses. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Randy Peers. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Several business owners commented on how the situation has impacted them.

For example, one owner of a health and wellness business in Park Slope (names were not provided) said, “The biggest struggle right now [is that] I have a staff person requested religious exemption from vaccine and I fear if clients ask the staff person, there may be backlash about someone having an exemption.”

The owner of an East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant food and beverage businesses commented, “Staff is frequently stressed by having to enforce the mask rule, usually having to take a ‘customer is always right’ approach to de-escalate and remain safe.”

And a Williamsburg bar and tavern owner said, “[This was the] first December with indoor dining for our spaces, but our sales plummeted nearly 60% in a rolling seven-day average.”

The Chamber also gave some raw data, some of which has been summarized below:

  • Fifty-three percent of staff and owners have been tested for COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
  • Ninety-four percent support the state mask mandate.
  • Ninety percent are aware of the new NYC vaccination mandate.
  • Fifty-nine percent of businesses check vaccination status.
  • Seventy-seven percent require masks.

However, in some cases, the customer isn’t always right. Thirty-one percent of those businesses who answered the survey experienced customer backlash, and 73% have experienced customer complaints about COVID-related safety measures.

All in all, 13% of the businesses saw their revenue increase during the holiday season, 77 saw it decrease, and 10% said it was the same, had no impact, or were unsure.


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