As New Yorkers are advised to avoid crowded spaces amid the growing COVID-19 outbreak, some in the food industry are already feeling the impacts on their businesses as the virus spreads through New York City, rising to 62 cases as of Thursday morning.
In Sunset Park, four dim sum restaurants have been forced to close due to a decrease in customers this week, according to the president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Randy Peers. East Harbor Seafood Palace, Bamboo Garden, Park Asia, and Affable Eatery have all temporarily closed.
"These restaurants are obviously going to be at a disadvantage," Peers said. The large spaces draw big groups for birthdays, anniversaries, or cultural events. "All of that stuff is now going to be put on hold. I feel deeply sad that that's going to happen to a lot of the folks that are there."
A manager for another large Chinese restaurant in the area, Pacificana, said they had to close Thursday and Friday due to water outages. The manager, Janet Yng, planned to re-open Saturday, but noted business has been "very slow."
Peers said larger restaurants such as those are getting hit first with a drop in customers, as well as hotels and the tourism industry.
"This is unfolding as we speak at a pace I don't think we've ever seen before," Peers said. "We don't know what we don't know."
To track how businesses are impacted by the ongoing outbreak, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce is launching a task force to track ten business sectors and ask a set of questions regarding revenue, workforce impacts, and support businesses may need. This will occur twice a week to document the rapidly-changing nature of how the virus impacts Brooklyn's small businesses. On Thursday, the chamber also called for a sales tax reduction, postponement of the plastic bag ban, suspending scheduling mandates under the Fair Workweek Law, among other demands.
On Elizabeth Street in Chinatown, dim sum banquet hall Jing Fong, with seating for nearly 800 people, has reduced hours to three days a week on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, according to manager Tammy Law.
When there's "no customers, I close. If customers are coming, I'll open," she said, emphasizing if groups make reservations during the week, she'll open the restaurant, which hosts weddings, birthday parties and other events with large parties. The new schedule started this week.
A manager at Jing Fong's Upper West Side location said business has been normal so far.
In Flushing, the executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce counted 11 out of 20 stalls closed on Wednesday during lunchtime at the Super HK Food Court on Main Street.
No staff was on-site to ask why they were closed, but Choe suspects it is a part of an increasing drop in business due to fear and stigma in Asian communities overall.
"The fear is that if this continues month after month, it will cripple our local economy," John Choe said. "If we continue to have this type of panic and fear and stigma around Flushing, it may continue and create vacant storefronts, joblessness, and social issues related to people losing their businesses."
Businesses in the area have told Choe "that the situation is getting worse for them," he said. He added food courts have seen the worst drop since those spaces are large public gathering places for people.
Rising rents and development pressure—like a rezoning in Flushing that Choe is opposed to—on local businesses is expected to be exacerbated by coronavirus in the coming months, he says.
"It's been very difficult in the past couple of years and the coronavirus is pushing people over the edge," Choe said. "We may overcome the health issues in the next couple of months regarding this virus, but how would that benefit anyone if there's no business and jobs to return to."
To curb the negative impacts on small businesses, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that businesses with less than 100 employees could qualify for $75,000 no-interest loans if sales have dropped by at least 25 percent. Businesses with less than five staffers can get a $6,000 grant to cover 40 percent of payroll costs for two months. Owners should call 311 to access the programs.
At a press conference on Wednesday, de Blasio noted that, "people should go out and continue to live life, should go out to restaurants, and obviously we don't want any discrimination. That's unacceptable," he said. "But for businesses that are hurting, we'll try and give them support."
"This is something that will be with us, but it will be with us for a finite period of time," he added, estimating New York would see the virus impact the city for another six months.
But Choe said details on such loans have not been forthcoming when he has called the city.
"It may be days or weeks from now when assistance is actually available for businesses," he estimated.
East Asian restaurants and neighborhoods have been reeling from impacts for weeks as business declines, even before the first New York case on March 1st. But other changes are also starting to unfold: like a sushi omakase restaurant checking body temperatures of customers, a drop in foot traffic for retailers at JFK Airport who are now demanding rent relief, and a shift to delivery and event cancellations for catering companies.
At Chelsea Market, a supervisor at Num Pang Kitchen said Wednesday's usual lunchtime rush had noticeably slowed this week.
"It's definitely a lot less people here than usual in the market itself," supervisor Robert Pectus said. "Usually, between 12 and 2 p.m., this place is packed, but right now it's fairly quiet. Right now, it looks like how it would usually look during the evening when it's quieted down and most people have gone home for the day."
A rep for Chelsea Market declined to comment on whether the entire market had seen an overall drop in foot traffic or customers. Another market, Time Out Market, said effects on the DUMBO food hall said the company is "continuing to monitor the situation carefully" and has "intensified precautionary measures," but said "it is too early to comment on the potential effect Covid-19 may have at this time but will provide updates as appropriate." DeKalb Market Hall is still open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., but has suspended events and urged customers to order delivery for their comfort, the market said Thursday morning on Instagram.
Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group was bracing for fewer customers as well and had to close three locations for temporary deep cleaning.
Union Square Cafe and Daily Provisions closed doors on Tuesday night to clean and sanitize the restaurants after an employee was sick, according to Eater. That employee tested negative for COVID-19, according to the website. Meyer's Midtown restaurant, Modern, also closed for one-night after the executive director of the Port Authority Rick Cotton ate there.
"Our business is going to be impacted," Meyer said in a video, noting the business has weathered through 9/11, the Gulf War, and financial recessions previously. "People are not feeling comfortable about going out right now. The minute we hear anything in any of our restaurants that doesn't feel right, we're going to do the right thing."
"It's not fun to ask our guest relations team to call 140 guests and say we're not going to open tonight. But it's the right thing to do. We will do it," he said.