In his travels across various Brooklyn business hubs, Randy Peers has been hearing the same message from owners: this year's Black Friday and Small Business Saturday events are critical to the survival of the borough's non-essential businesses.
"This is prime time for them and even more so in light of COVID-19 and the previous shutdown," Peers, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, told Gothamist on Friday. "They'll never be made whole for what happened this year but they're thinking about longer-term survival."
And as New York City stands on the brink of a full shutdown as a result of soaring COVID-19 positivity rates, Peers—whose organization represents 62,000 mom and pop stores comprised of a half a million workers—is now pleading with city and state officials to reconsider a full shutdown. Such a decision could spell financial ruin for business owners who depend on the holiday shopping season to boost needed sales.
"If we shut down now it, for many of them it's gonna be kind of a last straw," Peers said. "Some of these businesses will just close their doors, give the keys back and walk away. And that will be unfortunate for our neighborhoods and for our communities."
It is unclear whether the state will impose a broader shutdown. After initially saying that New York City could see more restrictions should the state-determined seven-day positivity average hit 3% for 10 days in the row, Cuomo has more recently said that he intends to use a "neighborhood by neighborhood" approach. On Wednesday, he announced that he was working on a "winter plan" that would factor in hospitalizations and hospital capacity in addition to positivity rates for any future closures and precautionary measures.
For now, Peers is pressing the governor and mayor "to be very, very thoughtful and strategic in the decisions that they're going to make over the next couple of months with respect to small businesses, and shutting down the economy."
The holiday season is crucial for Linda Camarda, the owner of Natural Balance in Marine Park, an acupuncture and massage business that temporarily closed in March after Cuomo instituted a shutdown for non-essential businesses.
Camarda later applied and received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to stay afloat, only to have her business briefly close again in October when Cuomo designated the neighborhood a hotspot and issued new restrictions.
"Those last two weeks of December, right before Christmas, we bring in a lot of business; a lot. So can you imagine if we're forced to shut down those two weeks? That's crazy," she said.
She added: "It would be like basically, putting the knife in my hand and asking me to cut my own throat."
New York City's small businesses have borne the brunt of the pandemic, with many either closing down permanently or having to rely on loans to get them by. A report by city Comptroller Scott Stringer found that many businesses were shut out of obtaining PPP loans even as big chains were getting them. Another report by the Comptroller found 2,800 businesses have closed their doors for good since the onset of the pandemic in March.
The chamber has attempted to stymie any permanent closures and help storeowners drum up revenue as a partner in the city's Small Business Resource Network. It also provides pro bono work in marketing, legal assistance, or lease renegotiations, and has advised local restaurants, on matters like the best heaters to use under the city's outdoor dining initiative.
"There are businesses that are really trying to survive today, so that they can make it to a better day," Peers said. "Let's get through 2020. Let's get to a vaccine. And then hopefully we can we can get back to normalcy in our small business economy."
De Blasio, who has repeatedly punted to the state over whether New York City's economy will be completely closed, did encourage New Yorkers to shop small this holiday season.
"These winter shopping months could be life or death, break even or not for small businesses," de Blasio said a Wednesday news conference. "But together, we can redirect our resources to keep our dollars circulating in our communities and to find what we're looking for in these diverse businesses."