On Friday, dozens of business owners and elected officials rallied in front of Little Chef Little Cafe in Long Island City to ask for government officials to deliver a plan to provide rent and mortgage relief, as well as aid for their employees.
The rally was organized by the Western Queens Business Advisory Council, which has made pleas for help for months from the federal, state and city government.
Roseann McSorley, owner of Katch Astoria, said she only brought back 12 of her 40 employees during the pandemic. But if she can’t make her bills next month, even they won’t have jobs anymore.
According to the state Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in Queens as of September 2020 was 13.8 percent.
“The businesses in this borough and every borough are going to fail,” McSorley said. “We aren’t going to survive.
“If you want to close us, then close us,” she added. “But sit down and tell us what you’re going to do for us and help us out.”
Last week, the NYC Hospitality Alliance released the results of a new survey of the restaurant industry, which found that 88 percent of respondents could not pay their full rent in October. That represents an uptick from previous months’ surveys.
According to more than 400 restaurants, bars and nightlife venues who responded, 30 percent could not pay rent at all in October. Nearly 60 percent of their landlords did not waive or reduce their rent, and 83 percent have been unsuccessful in renegotiating their leases.
The alliance noted that business owners who could not pay their October rent are also likely to owe back rent for previous months, worsening their personal debts.
“Going on eight months, more than 24,000 restaurants, bars and clubs citywide that are so critical to New York’s economic and social fabric have been in dire straits,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “Half of the industry’s 300,000 employees are still without jobs, and those numbers can’t improve while more businesses are permanently closing and leaving empty storefronts in our neighborhoods.”
One of the many small businesses that has already closed is The Creek & The Cave, a comedy club and venue that has been in Long Island City for more than a decade.
At the rally, owner Rebecca Trent, who made the announcement last week, called out Governor Andrew Cuomo for “turning your back on artists and gig workers.”
“Culture exists in New York City in a way that it doesn’t anywhere else on this planet,” she said. “We need to keep that sacred.
“Watching the art scene slowly dismantle month by month is the most heartbreaking thing I ever had to witness,” Trent added. “Closing my doors is the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Trent said she’s also scared for Broadway, the theaters that depend on Broadway, and the vendors that depend on the arts and culture. She noted that the neighborhood already lost The Secret Theater months ago.
“There’s going to be nowhere for us to play,” she said. “If you cannot play, you cannot have good art. That’s how it works.”
Diana Manalang, owner of Little Chef Little Cafe, opened up her small eatery just a year ago. She recalled that she was excited and full of hope about the “world ahead of us.” That hope has dwindled because of the uncertainty.
“Right now, there’s no telling,” she said. “Everyday is different.”
Manalang said neighbors have been supportive, but it will not be enough.
“It shouldn’t just be on our neighbors and on our community to keep us here,” she added. “It’s on our leaders to help fight for us so we can stay here.”
“It’s not the hard work that scares us, it’s the fact that there are no answers that scares us,” Manalang added. “Give us a solution, that’s all we ask.”
Assemblyman-elect Zohran Mamdani said that small businesses have been given a “false choice” of either keeping their business alive or following public health guidance.
While he said there’s “no question” that the state needs federal assistance, he said they have learned to not trust in Washington.
Instead, Mamdani said he will advocate for raising taxes on the wealthy in New York, which he believes could yield over $50 billion for the state.
“Yes, we need help, but we are also the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Mamdani said. “We’re going to go to Albany and we are going to fight like hell every single day.”