CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Businesses close as economic catastrophe looms

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David Lindsay was concerned as he sat down at an empty table to take a breather Saturday, but he wasn’t panicking just yet.

His Kingsbridge Social Club restaurant on Kingsbridge Avenue was busy. Yet, every other table was empty. Not because customers weren’t hungry for crispy Brussels sprouts or one of its wood-fired pizzas, but because all restaurants like the one Lindsay co-owns were ordered to fill only at half-capacity.

“We’re doing whatever we can to make people as comfortable as possible,” Lindsay said. “So we haven’t seen like a huge downturn. But I think that it’s still too early to figure out what is actually going to happen next.”

Lindsay didn’t have to wait long to find out. Less than 48 hours later, all restaurants, bars, cafes — anywhere people might congregate — were shuttered. Restaurants could still deliver, or allow people to pick up. But as more and more people inside New York City contracted the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, some of the most restrictive measures ever implemented against New Yorkers were necessary.

But it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt a lot. Not only will it be harder for businesses, especially small ones like Kingsbridge Social Club, to make money, but it will be harder for many to keep their jobs. One report out of Washington on Tuesday, in fact, suggested unemployment could soar as high as 20 percent nationwide.

City comptroller Scott Stringer fears it will hurt the city as well, especially as it tries to pay for essential services. He shared a new report claiming the coronavirus could cost city tax coffers $3.2 billion.

“That’s why I’m calling on the city to identify $1.4 billion in potential savings to protect the social safety net and ensure vital services are not interrupted, especially for our most vulnerable New Yorkers,” Stringer said, in a release. “And we need new support from all levels of government — and a substantial federal commitment to ensure businesses remain whole, and critical sectors can get back on their feet after we’ve weathered the storm.”

Such help would need to come not only from the state level, but from Washington as well. And on Tuesday, the Trump administration took a major step by loosening qualification restrictions on disaster relief loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“We’re very encouraged that banks and financial institutions are responding to the president’s efforts to mobilize an unprecedented public-private response to the coronavirus outbreak,” said SBA administrator Jovita Carranza, in a release. “As a result, most small businesses that need credit during these uncertain times will be able to obtain it. However, our goal is to ensure that credit is available to any and all small businesses that need credit, but are unable to access it on reasonable terms through traditional lending channels.”

The SBA can do that by not seeing the coronavirus outbreak as a local issue, but more geographically broad, Carranza said — like statewide. Typically, SBA disaster loans requires businesses to identify five others like them in a specific county that have suffered economically from the same disaster. Under the new SBA rules, businesses would only have to identify others like it anywhere in the state.

Jennifer Mitchell is preparing for what could be a large surge of people needing jobs. As executive director of The Hope Program, Mitchell and her team help around 500 people a year train for and find jobs in the work force, using offices in both Brooklyn and Hunts Point.

“This is really a precarious place we are all in,” Mitchell said. “Most places are not hiring right now, and so we’re trying to provide support and resources, and continue to work with people remotely until we start finding businesses that are hiring again.”

Not everyone has closed up ranks, however. Online retailer Amazon, for example, is in desperate need for delivery people after many who have decided to stay home turned to the internet for their product needs. Even in New York City, Mitchell said, there’s a tremendous need for workers by cleaning companies and landscaping.

“The food and the hospitality industry, obviously, is not going to move forward in the short term in any significant way,” Mitchell said. “But the other significant area where we’ve seen growth is in green construction and landscaping, that that will hopefully continue to flourish, even as we deal with what’s going on.”

Other companies have put our feelers looking for employees, including Stop & Shop at 5716 Broadway, who announced earlier this week it would open beginning at 6 a.m., primarily for customers over 60 and others health officials say are the most “vulnerable” to the COVID-19 virus. It would then allow all other customers in beginning at 7 a.m.

Then there are eateries like Tibbett Diner, known for its cozy atmosphere, but instead having to expand delivery and curbside pickup, while other types of businesses — like Buunni Coffee on Riverdale Avenue — will be forced to wait out the pandemic with closed doors.

By Tuesday, Kingsbridge Social Club was completely shut, except for deliveries and pick-up orders.

“Yeah, I think it’s something we’re going to be dealing with for a long time,” social club co-owner Lindsay said. “And yeah, short term, this could be devastating economically.”

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