Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Phase 2 reopening of many businesses after a long hiatus caused by COVID-19, but some of them may never return.
Some of those stores that will reopen include beauty parlors and barbershops, nail salons and restaurants. Many have been completely closed for more than 100 days and on the South Brooklyn Flatbush Avenue commercial corridor, a mostly minority-owned business district, already have “for rent” signs hanging in the windows or were doing clearance sales because they were closing for good.
Employees at Five Below department store at Dorchester Street was wide open, but shoppers could not enter. Employees sat in the front door and took requests for items. On Monday, they will be able to allow 10 people at a time into the store.
“We are just happy to be back,” said one employee who couldn’t give her name without permission from her employer. “But there are a bunch of places that look like they won’t open again.”
A store employee at Kids Lot, a child’s clothing store opened his door and just allowed shoppers to browse the aisles, despite the prohibition on being open.
“It doesn’t really matter – we’re going to close the store. They can’t afford to stay in business so we are just trying to sell some of what we have left,” an employee who would not be identified said.
Not one barbershop, beauty salon or nail salon was open. Many had “for rent” signs and appeared to be out of business for a long time. Business leaders say many of these salons operated on the fringes and existed month to month. Many of the retailers also can’t survive as landlords demand their rent despite their tenants collecting no income.
“Some of the landlords don’t want to hear anything and they are greedy,” said Ali Mehmet, an owner of a clothing store on Flatbush Avenue. “Some of them would rather kick out the tenant because they know people will want to rent after the virus goes away. Most of these salons can’t afford to pay so they have no choice. It’s not good for me, because then there is less shopping traffic here.”
David Johnson, resident of Flatbush Avenue for 42 years, said many of those stores he knows couldn’t keep up with the rent, but his neighbor, Shear Setters Hair Salon was cleaning their salon for a Monday opening.
“A lot of people, they have no money coming in, so they can’t open, and the landlord, what is he losing – what makes you think someone else is not going to come here, and that is ‘sure money,'” Johnson said. “The one thing about black women, they gotta have their hair done – so places will reopen, maybe not now, but sometime after.”
Gene Mazepa, the owner of Flatbush Express Pharmacy said he welcomes the reopening but fears the damage has already been done. he said that even though his store remained open, his business was damaged by COVID-19 because people were sheltering in place and weren’t coming out to the pharmacy or even going to the doctor, and therefore ignoring other ailments.
“People haven’t been going to the doctor so they do not get prescriptions,” Mazepa said. “People are also unemployed or don’t have that extra money for health and beauty aides either.”
Mazepa said that as a result, his pharmacy has been offering free delivery, especially to help out the many seniors who depend on him for their medications.
“Insurance doesn’t recognize delivery service as part of the service and that cuts into profits,” he said, “but especially for the elderly, we have to come through.”
He fears many businesses will not reopen and that will cut foot traffic to his store. But he said mom and pop stores were already under pressure.
“Amazon is eating up all the business already, so for a lot of businesses, COVID-19 is the nail in the coffin,” he said.
Even the local jewelry vendor, Betty Brown was sitting outdoors selling costume jewelry on an outdoor table. She was proud to say her outdoor sales were safe. But she said sales were down.
“People just don’t have the money to spend any more – nobody has a job, and so many stores are closing, but I try,” Brown said.
The Tall Man Barbershop at 1243 Flatbush had its door open, a man inside who didn’t want to be identified was cleaning chairs and railings with disinfectant.
“I’m just trying to get it clean for Monday – I hope we can make it,” he said.