New York City companies are barely hanging on

Nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York, parts of the Big Apple look more like ghost towns, bordered by closed shop windows, empty office buildings and companies wobbly on the edge of the closure.

Now, industry leaders and struggling store owners are urging the city and the state to turn things around – before it’s too late.

“I’m not saying there will be an emigration in the city or that the city will die” without help, “said Gino Gigante, owner of the Lower East Side’s Waypoint Cafe – where sales ranged from $ 500,000 in 2019 to just $ 80,000 last year. .

“But you will see many unhappy people and many empty shop windows.”

As of this month, more than 47 percent of small businesses across the country remain closed, while revenue for those who are open has dropped nearly 60 percent, according to TrackTheRecovery.org, a Harvard University-run database that tracks the economic impact of the virus.

In Lower Manhattan, commercial office leasing fell nearly 70 percent in 2020, while a staggering 12 percent of businesses – from hotels to department stores to restaurants – closed for good, data from Downtown Alliance shows.

“There are hours and hours when no one comes to the store at this time,” said Alyssa Morrow, head of SoHo clothing store The Vintage Twin. “We are bare bones.”

Restaurants, bars and cafes have been among the companies hardest hit by the pandemic.

“We started with 22 or 23 employees. Now we have about ten, says Andrew Chase, owner of Cafe Katja on Orchard Street in Lower Manhattan.

In a strong reminder of the dual dangers of the pandemic, these losses include a worker who killed for the virus just 36 years old, Chase said.

“It was just so tragic,” he said. “So all I care about is that everyone else is healthy.”

Still, declining profits have ushered in an uncertain future for Chase and his coffee shop, despite a GoFundMe cash flow, a loan through the federal paycheck program and an understandable landlord taking his lease on a quarterly basis.

The vacancy rate in homes, offices and shops has continued to soar – with as much as 21 percent of buildings in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn empty, according to Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis, the world’s largest real estate and investment firm.

“New York City had a free crisis before the pandemic and it has worsened to unimaginable levels,” Andrew Rigie, head of the Hospitality Association, told The Post.

A a series of government failures only accelerated the process.

It took 11 months to launch an outdoor permit program for the city’s winding living art sectors, three out of five promised emergency buses remain undeveloped, which hampers transport and there is still no support package for tenants which collectively owe more than $ 1 billion in back rent.

The Open restaurants and open streets, who breathed a trace of life back into the city during the summer, came only after threats of legislation and pressure from legislators, while aid and loan programs for small businesses has amounted to less than $ 100 million.

New York also needs to address quality of life issues to convince tourists – and residents who fled – to come back, said Jerome Barth, president of the Fifth Avenue Association.

“New York managed to become the world’s top tourist destination by being the safest city in the world and we must own that brand,” Barth said, referring to homeless crisis, high murder rates and increasing crime on the subways.

“Perception is what matters when people decide to come to New York or not.

While fighting quality of life issues, the city needs to be more forgiving when it comes to beating companies with fines and fines for minor violations, Rigie says, urging to emphasize the things that make New York the largest city in the world.

“The city needs to embrace the energy that makes New York City so unique,” he said. “We have to continue with the outdoor seating, we need outdoor performances.

“New York City must create reasons to get people back.”

Rigie and other industry leaders in the five boroughs said the government bureaucracy, coupled with complicated and inadequate relief efforts, makes it nearly impossible for businesses to bounce back.

“It’s just so much easier to operate in many other places,” said Elizabeth Lusskin, CEO of Long Island City Business Improvement.

“The rules are simpler, the applications are simpler, there is a simpler bureaucracy around everything.”

The companies that are not already forced to close can pack voluntarily if the grass looks greener in other states, warned Lusskin.

“If we want to maintain a strong business climate here, we must increase our game and really not take it for granted that everyone just wants to be here,” says Lusskin. “We are in a competition. And we are New Yorkers, so we should win, but we will not just win by default. ”

Additional reporting by Jennifer Gould, Lois Weiss and Aaron Feis

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