I own Pottery and Glass Land, a paint-your-own pottery and do-it-yourself canvas painting shop. We host parties and events, or just kids and adults who are looking for an interesting, fun activity on days off.
But we have been closed for the past nine months, throughout the summer, which is usually a busy time. We tried to make things work; I began offering painting kits online, shipped with all painting materials for fun at home. At the beginning of the lockdown we did quite a bit of business as everyone was home and looking to entertain their kids. But as time went on, business dribbled to nothing, and I was left with no income to pay my mortgage or to pay rent.
For store owners around New York, Ilana Cagan’s story sounds familiar and painful. The COVID-19 lockdowns this year have hit small business owners hard.
The lockdowns were eventually lifted. But Mrs. Cagan’s story didn’t stop there because at the beginning of last month, the area where her Coney Island Avenue store is located was deemed a “red zone” by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. His order put in place new zoned restrictions mostly in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. In the areas deemed red zones, which Cuomo claimed had the highest infection rates, “nonessential” stores were not allowed to open. For retailers that was yet another blow to their ability to make money.
And even though those restrictions have mostly been lifted as of this week, the business environment for many stores has remained oppressive. As with many small retail brick-and-mortar stores around the country, there have been fewer customers than before the pandemic started.
To try to reinvigorate business for these stores, two projects have recently been initiated to promote interest in shopping locally. The Shop Local project, organized by the Boro Park Jewish Community Council, is gathering steam in that neighborhood, with a meeting of store owners scheduled for this week. And Rise Up Red Zone, started by the askan Chaskel Bennett, is trying to inspire local shopping in Flatbush, Midwood, Boro Park and other South Brooklyn neighborhoods.
How badly were businesses in these Jewish neighborhoods hurt? The true extent of the financial losses is not yet known, but those who deal with the effects of those losses have already seen signs of their enormity.
“We started getting calls from breadwinners who were laid off,” said Avi Greenstein, CEO of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council. “There were numerous people applying for government programs who had never done so before.”
When the red zones were declared, Mr. Greenstein said, businesses began getting astronomical fines, often incorrectly or for minor violations, from roving inspectors. Even those stores that seemed to be doing okay actually weren’t. “The reality is that some businesses were relying on loans and the PPP program,” Mr. Greenstein said.
The loans will eventually come due, and the necessity of repayment for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans may still be unclear. Businesses are in uncertain financial waters, and some of them have had to lay off workers or take other drastic measures.