Restaurants are big business in this country. At least $900 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association — bigger than grocery stores, and even hospitals, by some estimates.
The nation’s economy depends on restaurants to survive. New York City — with 27,000 such establishments employing upward of 315,000 people — absolutely depends on restaurants.
Yet, the city’s food services industry has been decimated over the last several months. And while Mayor Bill de Blasio — and ultimately Gov. Andrew Cuomo — pin that blame on the coronavirus pandemic, fingers instead should be pointed directly at them.
There are no real-time statistics on how many restaurants have closed permanently since the public health crisis began in March, but this is something we can see for ourselves without the need for data. Go up and down Johnson Avenue, Riverdale Avenue, West 231st Street, West 238th Street, Broadway — you can clearly see who has survived and who likely won’t.
A lot was said about Land & Sea on Broadway a few weeks back permanently closing its doors. But it’s hardly alone — even in its own neighborhood.
Pay for those working in food and beverages might be some of the lowest in terms of industry, but those paychecks alone pump nearly $10 billion into the city’s economy each year. Not this year, however.
New York City restaurants can start allowing indoor diners beginning Sept. 30, but only at 25 percent. Everywhere else, the capacity maximum is 50 percent — still a tough sell for most restaurants, but better than 25 percent, and certainly better than nothing.
de Blasio and Cuomo have very difficult jobs right now balancing the need to restore the economy with keeping everyone save in the wake of COVID-19. But when it comes to New York City, there is no balance. There’s only overreaction and unnecessary anxiety.
No one here has forgotten what life was like with a virus spreading out of control in our neighborhoods. Even with infection and hospital rates at their lowest since the pandemic’s start, people are still wearing their masks. They are still maintaining social distance. They are still limiting their gatherings.
Sure, there are those who continue to resist such necessary measures. But no one wants to live like they did over the spring and the beginning of summer ever again.
During the worst of the pandemic, the New York Police Department monitored thousands of businesses, and did a fantastic job on ensuring there was compliance across the board. Why would that change now? Why couldn’t the NYPD work with other city agencies to ensure restaurants are following the “new normal”?
New York City should not be treated any differently than the rest of the state — as long as our numbers are strong. And they are indeed strong.
Cuomo talked about not just returning to what we had before the pandemic, but making it better. We can’t return at all, however, as long as we continue to treat our restaurants as second-class citizens.