[NOTE: According to the Rambam, the highest form of Tzedakah is to give someone Parnasah. YWN implores our vast readership to please read this and try and help these THOUSANDS of small-business owners before it’s too late. Many small-businesses in the NY area have already decided to close for good as they will never recover from their financial losses over the past few months!]
A group of New York-based Jewish small business owners have banded together in opposition of Cuomo’s continued lockdowns. Big box stores are overcrowded and overwhelmed, and these small business believe that being allowed to reopen would alleviate that burden and provide a safer environment for shopping.
Several recent viral videos highlight the claims of these owners. They ask for equal rights and the opportunity to open their businesses while maintaining proper hygiene and capacity control. New Jersey has already allowed curbside pickup for small businesses but in New York, small businesses remain shuttered.
These small business owners deliver heartfelt pleas on behalf of their businesses, their families and their employees.
AN OPEN LETTER FROM A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER
These are unprecedented and uncertain times. We see beloved grandparents and gedolim dying, community members laid off en masse, and young children cooped up at home, anxiously trying to process a world that seems scarier than the one they lived in last month. Our frum community is reeling, and our trademark togetherness is shattered although we are all trying to glue the fabric of our community back together via Zoom and quick curbside hellos.
At the same time that the world has imploded around us, we have seen beautiful examples of our community at its finest. Hatzalah, Achiezer and myriad other organizations and individuals are performing chesed on a daily basis. New chesed initiatives, virtual Beis Medrashim, and so much more have sprung up to fill the void.
With all of the global chaos, shopping (for anything other than basics) is far from many people’s minds. And for those who have been laid off or whose finances are uncertain, retail shopping should be the least of your concerns. This article is in no way intended to minimize the public health crisis that we face or the financial issues many are facing. But for anyone who is in a position to help support local business, it is more imperative than ever that you try to do so! Let me explain why…
WHO WE ARE
The local retailers and the many other local business owners are not just nameless, faceless business people, angling for a buck.
We are your friends and your family and your neighbors. We or one of our employees sit next to you in shul. We might have sponsored your child’s little league team and we definitely supported your shul’s Chinese Auction and your school’s raffle. Our ads help finance the local papers and our businesses employ many other people. We are an “essential” part of the community.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO US
And now we are hurting. “Stop the Spread” has saved lives but the governor’s shutdown orders also crushed every Jewish retailers’ most important month: the month before Pesach. And now it continues with no clear end in sight, no obvious date for your favorite local shopping destinations to magically return to normal or even semi-normal.
Our businesses are shut or crippled, and our families and employees rely on the success of those businesses for our livelihoods. Most business owners will pay their employees no matter what, even if it means not taking home their own pay. When someone loses their job now (which is terrible), they lose a set monthly income they relied on. Perhaps unemployment payments or the stimulus check has helped ease that temporarily. We hope that every person enduring the agony of losing their job sees a recovery quickly!
If one of us loses our business, we could also be consumed instantly by insane amounts of debt and business owners don’t get to collect unemployment. When we took a “risk” by becoming an entrepreneur, or taking out a loan to grow our business, we never dreamed that the whole world could shut down. leaving our stores closed and our debts piling up with no clear end in sight. That could mean, for some, an instant loss of their expected income and insurmountable debt. It could take years to recover or some business owners and their spouses and children might never recover.
Our sales revenue numbers aren’t just actuarial data on an excel spreadsheet; they are what determine if we make it. For the majority of us small business owners, it’s not just what determines if the business makes money, but whether we make money. We rely on these businesses to support our families. We rely on your patronage to sustain that business.
WHY IT’S HAPPENING
With no clear end date to the stay-shut orders in sight, we are all panicking. Restaurants rely on a mix of sit-down, takeout and catering to sustain their business. Curbside pickup and Uber Eats deliveries is not a sustainable business model long-term for almost every restaurant. Those reliant on the simchos industry like caterers, singers, and photographers are getting crushed as well right now. Some local businesses were newly acquired by their owners, while others just completed a renovation. Some businesses have money in bank for a rainy day but many do not and live month to month, relying on each month being like the prior one.
Businesses like your local clothing and shoe stores that carry seasonal inventory made purchase orders over 6 months ago assuming that this Spring/Summer season would be like any other. Some of those stores maxed out their credit lines to make those purchases. And now they face the reality that they may not see a reopening in time to move all of this backlogged merchandise. To you, a 30% off or a 50% off sale right after Pesach is a metziah. For them, it is a desperate reaction to a desperate new reality.
Who can afford to get stuck holding outdated inventory? Usually these businesses rely on selling the bulk of their merchandise at the beginning of the season at full price and gradually discounting items as the season nears the end. This year, businesses jumped straight to slashing prices, desperate to generate some minimal sales while closed. That means profits are out the window. This is “damage control” time for most stores.
In terms of non-retail, local self-employed lawyers, doctors, social workers, and other service providers are struggling as well since they are closed or severely limited in their ability to perform their jobs. Camp owners, little leagues and gymnastics centers face uncertain futures, frozen enrollment and a ticking countdown clock on their seasons.
WHY CAN’T THE GOVERNMENT FIX THIS?
What about government bailouts, you ask? Sadly, the SBA programs have been doomed from day one. It is literally impossible for the government to float enough Monopoly money to sustain every business through a lengthy lock down. And even businesses that “won” the SBA jackpot are funded based upon their payroll, not the size or needs of their business.
So a store may receive a forgivable loan but it requires them to pay employees for the next 8 weeks while they are closed and the employees cannot work anyways. Another business may have only 1 or 2 salaried employees but they could be sitting on a million dollars of inventory they can’t sell or their rent might be $15,000 per month and their landlord won’t negotiate with them.
WHEN WILL IT END?
We all want a return to normalcy. We all hope we can save lives and see improvements to the health and safety of the Jewish community and of New York in general. We hope that this progress comes quickly and Shuls, schools, stores and more can start to reopen.
If the summer can see a return to semi-normalcy for businesses, then hopefully all of the stores and services you know and love will make it out the other side. Hopefully our children get to play outdoors and attend camp and we can all grab a coffee and window shop again! We hope. But we just don’t know. Only Hashem knows.
But if things take a lot longer? If stores can’t reopen for months or they reopen but shoppers just aren’t around? Many of the stores you know and love might not be around whenever Cuomo releases his stranglehold on local businesses. And that would be a shame. Again, the loss wouldn’t just be a matter of how many different pizza choices you have. The loss of every store or business is another Jewish family or families facing an uncertain future, their source of a living ripped away by this disease. Covid-19 is taking lives and ruining lives in many different ways.
SO HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESSES?
For the restaurants and other businesses that are open in some capacity, please patronize them. For stores forced to close, you can shop on their websites. Or find them on Instagram or call them. Most stores are taking orders and then shipping or delivering them locally. Online orders for many businesses can’t possibly match the sales they were making when the storefront was also open.
Consider changing your habits. If you were going to buy a pair of shoes on Amazon, consider buying from a local retailer. Amazon has given up on 2 day deliveries anyways and many items on Amazon Prime are taking far longer to arrive. So consider whether a retailer locally might have what you are looking for. Try to find other items or services you used to buy online or from a big box retailer and try to support the small businesses here in the Five Towns.
If you don’t need anything now, but have a favorite store, buy a gift certificate. Help their cash flow problem now and get yourself something nice later. Or give the gift certificate to someone else who needs it or as a gift. Perhaps you can stockpile something now that you know you purchase regularly anyways.
Many businesses have gotten creative. Caterers have “to-go” Kiddush packages, local entertainers or entertainment places are offering affordable Zoom sessions, retailers are offering free shipping or local delivery. We are all trying our best to stay afloat in these trying times. So please shop local if you can!
Keep spreading the message and email or call Cuomo’s office and other politicians’ offices.
If we all keep helping each other and having each other’s backs, hopefully Hashem will bring an end to the virus and we can look forward to a brighter, healthier future for us all.
A Concerned Local Business Owner
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)