Sep. 10, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
Dozens of small business owners in Queens have come together to call on the government to help them get through the economic crisis before they are forced to permanently close.
The business owners appealed to city, state and federal officials for financial relief and other forms of assistance at a press conference in Astoria today. Organizers used the hashtag “SAVE OUR SMALL BIZ” to highlight their cause.
The organizers, who held the event outside Katch Astoria on Newtown Avenue, outlined a series of demands including commercial rent relief, business grants and loans as well as a detailed plan for indoor dining.
The group also wants outdoor performance spaces to be reopened and said that the city’s arts and cultural industries have been crippled under the COVID-19 shutdown.
The event was organized by the Western Queens Small Business Council and several Business Improvement District directors and other local business advocates. State Senators Mike Gianaris and Jessica Ramos were also present along with Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Donovan Richards.
Gianaris said that many small businesses are unlikely to survive the economic downturn unless immediate relief is provided.
“We are in the midst of a small business catastrophe the likes of which we’ve never seen,” Gianaris said.
The business owners said they owe tens of thousands of dollars in rent, which has mounted since March. They said they have been asked to bear the cost of the shutdown alone and called for partial or total rent forgiveness for the period in which they were closed.
Roseann McSorley, the owner of Katch Astoria, said that small business owners are struggling to pay commercial rent as well as their household rent.
“When a business closes its doors, it means dozens of families are faced with personal hardship,” McSorley said.
“We have done everything we can for the past few months to stay afloat, but we are running out of lifelines and desperately need our government to take action to save Queens’ small businesses,” she said.
The groups also called for a new round of city disaster grants and loans, and want the mayor to spearhead a Business Recovery Task Force. They also want the outer boroughs to get their fair share of help.
Restaurant and bar owners said they need an immediate blueprint for indoor dining in order to plan ahead as outdoor permits expire in October.
They also want business interruption insurance claims to be honored and expedited. In addition, they are calling on the federal government to improve and expand the PPP program.
Business owners and non-profits operating in arts and culture said that their industry is being decimated by current outdoor restrictions and want outdoor spaces to be opened up for performances.
“We were the first to be shut down and still, are not allowed to open,” said Sheila Lewandowski, the executive director of The Chocolate Factory, a nonprofit theater company.
Lewandowski, whose nonprofit is in Long Island City, said that artists are leaving the city in droves because they cannot wait around for work.
“We are critical to the city and state’s identity as a center for innovation and culture, and to our economy,” she said.
“We need guidelines and support to open safely to help bring people back to our city and state.”
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer echoed those sentiments and said that mom and pop stores as well as independent theaters liven streets and bring character to the community.
“The governor must cancel commercial and tenant rents, and give working-class New Yorkers a fighting chance,” Van Bramer said.
— Danielle Brecker (@DanielleBrecker) September 10, 2020