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New York City restaurant owners call for action from the state to prevent closure

Eateries will remain outdoor only for the time being, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

BY FANNI FRANKL

New York City restaurants and bars that are not able to pay more than half their rent are heralding a call for action from New York State.

Findings in a survey found that 80% of restaurant owners could not pay even half their rent, shedding light on the crisis that ensued from the coronavirus lockdown. The results of the survey, released Monday morning, found that just 17.2% of respondents said that they were able to pay 50% or more of their rent. After New York State announced that restaurants could only open with only takeout or outdoor dining, eating establishments have not been able to earn close to the amount of business needed to pay their rent, and especially without making a profit.

The restaurant and entertainment industry have collectively lost billions of dollars from the shutdown, sparking fear in those that see how this loss may cause serious economic troubles. Small business owners additionally want to see adequate representation by the state to keep their businesses afloat and save the small business sector of the city, a perspective shared by James Malios, owner of Amali restaurant.

“I think it’s a horrific disregard for due process and rights of small business owners,” he said. “It’s arbitrary and capricious to me that other businesses don’t seem to be held to the same level of restrictions as we are. Restaurants have been getting a level of inspection that no other stores are getting, so I’d like a plan on how we can plan to survive.”

Restaurants like Amali have been running at a 95-98% loss in revenue, a percentage foreshadowing the disastrous consequences the pandemic will have on businesses. It is estimated that nearly one-third of small businesses in New York City may shut down for good, if the government does not enact measures to protect them. Business owners are relying on their landlords to provide them with some leeway and delay in rent payments as revenue continues to plummet.

“In order to operate successfully, we need business to be at a 75% minimum,” Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s in Harlem said. “Small businesses are the fabric of our communities, so I think it’s going to evaporate our economy if they fail. Six businesses have already failed in a ten-block radius which is very hurtful for my community.”

Wilson noted that small businesses are for “those who believe in the American dream” and that the government has a responsibility to provide cash grants and a halt on commercial rent that would mean “the difference between surviving and not surviving.”

While the expansion of outdoor dining by Mayor Bill de Blasio has ushered in some lost business, small business owners seek a larger settlement bent on protecting the industry that is on the brink of collapse.

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