Storefronts slow to get back to business on first day of NYC’s reopening

Boarded up businesses in SoHo on June 8, 2020, the first day of the NYC reopening. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)


For New York businesses making “a brand new start of it in old New York” following three months of COVID-19 restrictions, the first day of reopening Monday served more as preparation for the future.

Under Phase 1, retailers could reopen their doors — but they can’t welcome customers inside their shops to browse. Customers can pick their items up at the stores in person after placing an advanced order online or by phone.

But many stores across the city didn’t reopen Monday. Instead, for shops like Slowear Venezia in SoHo, June 8 served as a preparation day for future days of commerce.

“Especially after the SoHo looting, on the very first day, we’re bringing the store back in shape,” said Marcel York, who serves as Slowear Venezia store manager. “All the product was removed to prevent further looting. We were very lucky that nothing happened with us.”

The store didn’t bear as much damage as other shops in the community that suffered mightily during looting that coincided with the George Floyd protests between May 30 and June 2.

Much of Monday, York said, a skeleton crew worked to prepare the necessary safety measures for co-workers to return Tuesday. That includes setting up multiple hand sanitizer stations and securing the proper amount of face masks and gloves.

While York is hopeful customers will return soon, the Phase 1 limitations on curbside pickup may not be practical for most businesses in the Manhattan enclave. Not many people need a car to get around the tiny neighborhood; foot traffic has always been the strongest generator of business for its retailers.

“SoHo is a luxury brand neighborhood. If you can’t go shopping here, you won’t come down here,” he said.

Slowear Venezia’s looking to the Internet to entice customers to continue shopping at the store virtually.

“We’re going to contact them, take little videos of the store, show [items] to them, and then ship it,” he said. 

Many other businesses weren’t as ready to reopen Monday. The glass windows and doors of many of SoHo’s luxury brand stores remain covered by wooden boards after they were looted.

However, some of the plywood coverings have been transformed into canvasses for protesters to paint the faces of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice — memorials to just a few victims of police brutality.

Art on one of the plywood boards covering a storefront in SoHo. (Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)
Despite the pandemic, some Manhattanites passed through the neighborhood Monday to walk a dog, stretch their legs or just take a break from being in doors.
Ronnie Applewhite, a superintendent of an apartment building on Greene Street, describes the atmosphere of the neighborhood as not having changed much since the pandemic began.
“Nobody is really attempting to open up right now, “ said Applewhite, who thinks stores owners are cautious to reopen given the pandemic and looting that occurred after some George Floyd protests last week. “Nobody right now is taking chances.” 

Retail stores on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn reported a slow start to business on their first day reopening but are thankful made it through to the other side of the pandemic. 

“It is slow because I think everyone is inside, so we are waiting to see how it is going to turn out,” said Ismaelie Jean-Charles, manager of La Belle Boutique. “But it’s good to reopen again and to know you are not one of the people losing their business due to the pandemic.” 

To celebrate the first week of reopening, La Belle Boutique, a Fifth Avenue clothing shop between 10th and 11th streets, is hosting a sale on all of its merchandise which they hope will help to attract more customers. 

Park Slope’s La Belle Boutique is hosting a sale to kick off their reopening. (Photo by Jessica Parks)

“We have posted on Facebook and Instagram to let people know we are open,” Charles said. “And then we have the sale of 50-70% so we can’t wait to see how the week goes.” 

The shopping experience for clothing looks a bit different, he said, as restrictions do not allow customers to try on the clothes before purchasing. 

Only three people are allowed in the shop at a time, and they will be provided face masks if they are not already wearing one, Jean-Charles said. 

“We have everything ready for the customers when they come in,” Jean- Charles said. “If someone walks in without a mask, we will have one for them.” 

Lullaby Baby— another Fifth Avenue storefront between 11th and 12th streets — also reopened Monday, though they have been operating with pick-up and delivery to continue serving the neighborhood as its only baby retailer.

“I don’t believe our customers were able to afford us not being available to them at any capacity,” said the store’s owner, Yossi Rapoport. “We are the only baby store in this neighborhood and people do rely on us.” 

Opening the gates makes the shop more noticeable for passerby, Rapoport said, which he hopes provide a boost to business as he is currently only making a fraction of the sales he was prior to the pandemic. 

“The main difference is that we are more visible,” Rapoport said. “That makes it easier for the customer to remember that we are there to serve them.” 

Many of the storefronts on Park Slope’s business corridor did not open Monday, according to the executive director of the Park Slope Business Improvement District, as many store owners took the day to work out the logistics of operating under the new regulations. 

“It’s not really as dramatic as the city would have you believe since its only curbside pickup,” said Mark Caserta. “Businesses were trying to figure out how to make it work.” 

The business-boosting group is offering up to 20 masks per employee to any neighborhood business that requests them.