By Karol Markowicz
Remember COVID-19? Owners of small businesses that have yet to open but are in danger of being smashed by rioters sure do.
As Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo take turns making vague comments about the continued destruction, many small-business owners caught in limbo are asking: Why are crowds OK for protest but not anything else? Our fearful leaders have no answer.
New York City is still a full five days away from entering Phase 1. This will open up only some industries, like construction and manufacturing and retail on a pickup basis only.
Many business owners are wondering if they’ll have a business left to open when their turn finally comes.
Few business owners I spoke to would let me use their name or the name of their business. Several told me they’re afraid of retaliation by a government that has full control of their fate. They feel that criticizing any part of the reopen plan can have them targeted for shutdown when they do get to open.
An owner of a chain of pre-schools that regularly provide services to over 500 families across the city told me how impossible it’s been to get a clear answer from the state about the future of his business.
“We have waited weeks to hear from state and local officials and no one can provide clear guidance. We’ve had teams that have been put in place to assess the situation from Day 1, and the fact that there is little to no solid information presented to small businesses so we may begin to transform to the new norm is disheartening, to say the least.”
With “education” sandwiched in with Broadway shows and concerts in Phase 4, and so many day camps closed for the season because permission from Cuomo to open came too late, it’s impossible to tell when parents will be able to get any kind of child care.
Many other business owners I spoke to were unclear how they will reopen if their kids have nowhere to go.
Others wondered how, even after we fully reopen, their businesses could function with the strict guidelines in place.
A jewelry store owner in Midtown told me she’s not sure how a jewelry store can allow customers inside with masks. The curbside pickup finally allowed in Phase 1 won’t make a difference to many retailers either.
Sarale Giter, a hairstylist in Brooklyn, was one of the few to let me use her real name. She is one of the founders of the group Reopen NY, dedicated to helping small businesses reopen.
Giter told me, “If you can give blessings to protesters who are exercising their right to protest without social distancing, then surely we can be free to practice our right to conduct business in a safe and social distanced manner with masks and sanitizing.”
The protests have exposed the absurdity of the continued lockdowns. It’s either a public-health emergency and crowds must be stopped or it’s not. It cannot be both.
On Sunday, as protests continued in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, a video circulated online of a city sheriff just a few avenues away giving tickets to open stores on 13th Avenue in Brooklyn.
None of this makes any sense anymore. The jig is up, the lockdown is over, our elected officials just need to catch up.
The unrest in our streets is undeniably tied to people being locked in their homes indefinitely, many with no jobs to return to. There’s a reason the protests are hitting so hard in New York City, nowhere near Minneapolis, the actual site of George Floyd’s killing, and that’s because we remain in this perpetual lockdown with hardly an end in sight.
We need to get to a better place as a city, and to do that we need to go back to work.
Dani Zoldan and James Altucher own the comedy club Stand Up New York. On Sunday the club put on a socially distanced show on the sidewalk outside. Altucher told me, “We just wanted to get people laughing again. The comedians were great. The audience was having a fun time and doing proper social distancing and wearing masks. And then we were shut down about 20 minutes before the show would’ve ended anyway.”
We all need to laugh again. Our politicians need to let us.
FILED UNDER GEORGE FLOYD , NEW YORK CITY , PROTESTS , SMALL BUSINESS