New York City’s mom & pop businesses suffer, stories of woe abound amid COVID-19 crisis

Valerie and her husband Alan Wornian own the EJ Cards and Gifts on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens.

Shuttered businesses through the city face the prospects of surviving COVID-19 through forced closures and having to pay rent, insurance, and mortgages without income.

So many businesses face demise, some already closing like the famous Coogans Bar in Washington Heights that closed after last year’s war with their landlord over huge rent hikes. The owner says COVID-19 was the last straw.

Yet, many merchants want to survive and eagerly await assistance from the government – many seeking Payroll Protection Payments, Small Business Administration, and Small Business Services loans and grants to help pay employees, rent, or their vendors. Not everyone is closed, and in some cases, the business has been reduced to a trickle – some taking to websites to make a living or restaurants who are doing take-out orders.

Here is the first of our stories from some of these merchants.

‘We don’t want to lose our business to COVID-19’

Valarie Wornian, and her husband, Alan, have owned EJ Cards and Gifts for 40 years on Myrtle Avenue and they are closed. The Wornians filed a petition to be an “essential business,” offering masks, hand sanitizer, bandanas, but they were denied.

Valarie knows the problems of re-opening, but also realizes that without income, she can’t pay rent or any of her vendors. She still have Easter merchandise on her shelves and St. Patrick’s Day products that are collecting dust. She yearns to open – her most important day of the spring being Mother’s Day, where her business needs to make sales or else.

So they worry that the proposed opening of May 15, is a big problem with few solutions.

“I don’t want this to put us out of business because of a virus,” sighed Valarie who is also a board member of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District. “My father-in-law opened this store, he passed away at age 75, and now my husband and I run the store and I’m willing to go back to work and do whatever social distancing is needed to be open.”

They’ve not only missed the last two holidays, but are now losing graduations, communions. Her husband is “immune-compromised,” so he would remain in isolation. But she says she’s willing to get back in, keep to one customer at a time, do pick-ups and deliveries – but she’s not allowed.

Her landlord is somewhat understanding, so she sent a partial payment of her rent $10,000 a month rent to show “goodwill.” She is less concerned for herself than losing the business she loves – though she has lost friends and distant relatives to the virus.

“May 15 is the worst day they could do, because we will miss Mother’s Day – I’m willing to work by myself – most customers pay by credit card,” she said. “I’d let one or two in at a time. I’d do balloon deliveries. We applied for an SBA loan, but that fizzled out. We even applied for unemployment. I just don’t know what else to do – but I guess I’m grateful to be alive.”