Covid 19: The virus that completely changed the world, perhaps forever. It’s no surprise that the virus has taken over all of our lives and how we survive day to day. Small businesses are not an exception. During the on and off lockdowns, businesses were forced to open and shut their doors, over and over again. Restaurants were limited to takeout, which wasn’t always possible for them, and other businesses were closed for months on end.
New York City has always been a place that prides itself on the opportunity for any individual to make a name for themselves, regardless of birth status. For this reason, it is shocking that the city hasn’t made more of an effort for those who have dedicated their lives to establishing businesses here. It became clear that small businesses were not being prioritized, in the name of enforcing Covid-19 safety. The city had been aggressively fining these already struggling businesses for violating Covid-19 guidelines, and it’s important to pay attention to the most affected voices.
The Avenue is a bar and restaurant located at 71-22 Myrtle Avenue, Glendale NY. When asked about the topic, the owner said that he did not receive any fines on the basis of Covid-19 guidelines. He said that he believed small businesses were being targeted, but that it was not of malicious intent. He also stated that prior to the most recent shutdown, his business had been visited by a city inspector two to three times a week. Finally, the owner felt that New York City, as a whole was being singled out, from the rest of New York State.
Russell’s VIP Barber Shop is an establishment that is stationed at 75-34 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village NY. Russell observed that the barbershop had been visited by the city’s inspectors twice a week for months. Russell suspected that small businesses were being targeted, but that small businesses everywhere were being targeted, not necessarily just in one location or another.
Steve’s Deli, another staple in the community is found at 68-33 79th Street, Middle Village NY. Steve stated, that he hadn’t dealt with fines from the city. When asked if he felt that small businesses were being targeted, he said “Yes. Yes, I absolutely do believe that small businesses are being targeted.” Then, when asked if he felt that this particular part of the neighborhood was being targeted, he confirmed that the South of Metropolitan Avenue was not nearly as affected as the Northside of Metropolitan Avenue, by Dry Harbor Road and Elliot Avenue. Steve also said that he considered himself to be very lucky that he was not visited by city inspectors, once.
Best Tress Hair Salon, at 64-59A Dry Harbor Road Middle Village, NY was also subjected to these inspections. They were fined at least once, and a representative from the salon said “I feel like all businesses right now are being targeted, but I feel like small businesses are definitely being more hurt.” When asked if this specific area of the neighborhood was being targeted, she responded, “No, I work in Williamsburg, and we’re getting walk-ins from the inspectors there as well.” She also said that they came in frequently and that in one week four different people came in. She also stated, “I can see more or less where they’re coming from, with their expectations, but there’s a certain point where enough is enough”.
Councilman Robert Holden, the council member representing District 30, the district where these businesses are located, gave his opinions as well. “I found out that we were [being targeted] because we had high numbers and were in the yellow zone at the time. Some of the businesses were targeted, and the Mayor’s office admitted that. They needed to enforce the regulations in a more heavy-handed manner being that some of the businesses around here and Elliot Avenue were hit with thousand-dollar fines, sometimes for not having a sign in the window, or the six-foot stickers on the floor, keeping a log of customers on the wrong type of paper. Some were returned because they were written wrong, but most of the businesses had to go to court.”
He also added, “Most of us feel that the restaurants are being targeted. They’re not really Covid spreaders, maybe the bars are, but they shouldn’t have closed indoor dining, especially during the winter.” When asked if he felt the fines were justified, Councilman Holden replied, “The last thing we want to do is fine businesses that are struggling, especially if they’re struggling financially, the last thing you want to do is hit them with a financial fine. If you’re going to do something, give a warning first, but to hit them with a monetary fine, during the pandemic-a financial crisis, is the worst thing that you can do.”
Finally, when posed with the question, ‘Do you think that the guidelines are 100% realistic or do you think that they can be amended?’, the councilman responded, “The guidelines are confusing, the city doesn’t communicate well, they never did. This administration doesn’t communicate well to anyone. We’re getting calls today just asking where they can get a vaccine or tested. I understand that this is new territory, but the rollout for the vaccine is bad, the rollout on the business regulations are bad, and they keep changing it, and it seems arbitrary, so yes I think some of the regulations and demands for the business were unrealistic.”
In a crisis that affects everyone in one way or another, it seems that many feel that these guidelines are not completely fair to the businesses being affected. Small businesses make up the fabric of New York City and should be treated as such.