As COVID-19 cases rise in a number of neighborhoods across Brooklyn and Queens, small business owners are fearful a second wave of closures would crush them.
Across nine ZIP codes in NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed closing non-essential businesses for two to four weeks to keep the virus from spreading further. Governor Andrew Cuomo has to approve the plan, and has yet to do so, the mayor said Tuesday morning. Cuomo wants to consider establishing boundaries in another way besides ZIP codes for the purposes of closing businesses, but has not indicated what he'll decide. Cuomo will hold a press briefing at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Meanwhile, business owners are waiting to see what the two political leaders will hash out.
"We're kind of just waiting on that shoe to drop basically," Alyssa Afflitto, the owner of Vinny's Lunchbox in Gravesend, said when she heard the governor hadn't approved de Blasio's plan. "It'll just crumble us. We're barely staying afloat as of right now."
The uptick in the ZIP code of 11223—with a 8.27% positivity rate—is "frustrating," she said.
She says some nearby restaurants don't follow protocols, like social distancing and an 11 p.m. closure time.
"We’re at this what, eight months now? It should be automatic now—wash your hands, wear your mask, if it’s not for yourself it’s for everybody else," said Afflitto, a Bay Ridge resident who grew up in Gravesend. "It’s just very irresponsible and frustrating, extremely frustrating."
Public and private schools went fully remote on Tuesday in the nine ZIP codes—which cover Bensonhurst, Mapleton, Flatlands, Midwood, Gravesend, Homecrest, Borough Park, Gerritsen Beach, and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn as well as Kew Gardens, Pomonok, Edgemere, and Far Rockaway in Queens. All have seen a 3% positivity rate for at least seven days in a row. Another 13 ZIP codes are on a watchlist for rising positivity rates. Neighborhoods where the city has tracked a rising positivity rate comprise of Orthodox Jewish communities, and, particularly in Gravesend, various immigrant communities, including Russian speakers.
Hair salon owner in Borough Park, Yelena Kalendareva, says she feels that the possible closures are targeting Jewish neighborhoods, and questioned the validity of numbers the city has presented.
"Any business that provides for their family is an essential business, first of all," she said. "We can't go and become doctors so that we're considered essential businesses. I personally have four children and I work. If I'm going to be closed again, what am I supposed to do?"
Of the first shutdown, she said, "It was literally a nightmare."
"We maxed out our savings," she added. "We can't get back on our feet."
A Kew Gardens barbershop owner, Robert, felt similarly.
"The spike is overrated," he said.
Hearing from de Blasio "that he wanted to close down this neighborhood, all the non-essentials, I started getting that anxiety feeling all over again," said Robert, who declined to give his last name. "People need to go to work."
When a reporter called the barbershop on Monday to share the news that Cuomo hadn't yet accepted de Blasio's plan, Robert and his co-workers cheered.
"It was going to be a bit hit for me," he said. "I went into my savings for three months when we were closed."
The lack of clarity on the closures angered the owner of Ciccio's Pizza in Gravesend.
"If I was the governor and the mayor I would sit down together and come to a conclusion. They knock heads together," said the pizzeria owner, Anthony Posa. "They're not on the same page."
Barbershop and hair salon owner Natalie Galebsky in Gerritsen Beach said her business had to shutter during the PAUSE just three months after opening.
There, in ZIP code 11229, there's a 5.07% positivity rate.
"It wasn't easy to pay rent. We're thankful for our landlord, who first of all, cut the price significantly for us. Also, he let us pay later," said Galebsky.
Should another shutdown occur, she acknowledges the difficulty but knows it is for the city's broader public health needs.
"We [would] have to sacrifice a little bit now, but later, we will gain it again like the first time," she said, referencing a flood of customers after they reopened this summer.
A Bensonhurst shoe store employee said the shop was doing better after a slow recovery in the neighborhood, but another shutdown "doesn't make any sense."
"We're just going to wait and see," said the employee, Sam Cuffaro. "A lot of people are not happy."
With WNYC's Gwynne Hogan.