New biz normal is coming, but what will it look like?


Assuming protests and some of the violence that trailed in its wake doesn’t mess anything up, New York City is expected to finally jumpstart its stalled economy on Monday, June 8. 

But as the city catches up to the state’s nine other regions on the road to recovery, there are still many unanswered questions that abound — especially surrounding some of the unique needs of small businesses. 

Under the current guidelines, the first phase only includes construction, manufacturing and some retailers offering curbside or delivery service. But some members of the advisory board for New York Forward — the state task force in charge of reopening — believe many of these small businesses have waited long enough to reopen. 

If nothing changes, small restaurants as well as hair and nail salons won’t open until the third phase. For New York City — assuming there’s no resurgence of the coronavirus — that wouldn’t start until July 7 at the earliest. Instead, the task force is considering moving these particular businesses to the second phase, according to task force member Lisa Sorin. If she succeeds, small restaurants and salons could reopen as early as June 22 — two weeks after the city starts the first phase of reopening. 

“The second phase was supposed to be a lot more restrictive,” Sorin said. “But looking at the impacts some of these businesses have had, Phase Two is looking to change.”

The original plan called for only finance and insurance agencies, as well as various retailers and real estate offices. The problem, however, is that plan was built for more rural parts of the state, where such smaller restaurants and salons aren’t a major staple in the economy like what they are in the Bronx and the rest of the city. 

Take the federal small business loan program, for example, Sorin said. Washington defines small businesses as having fewer than 500 employees. In New York City, however, only companies with 100 employees or fewer count as small businesses. In the Bronx, those small businesses employ even less — up to 20. And Sorin should know. She’s not only on the state task force, but she’s also president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce. Those businesses face a unique problem when deciding how and when to reopen, largely because the state has no plan to communicate with small businessowners about how to prepare to get back to work. 

“What I will say about this crisis is the further we have gone into it, there’s been a bigger acknowledgement that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all,’” Sorin said. “Businesses are desperate, you know. Three months, almost 100 days is way too long to see any business try to survive and it’s heartbreaking to see us wait this long.”

Some businesses are frankly tired of waiting so long to reopen, according to Sorin, who added that some have decided to go ahead and open their doors anyway. Jeff Garcia, part-owner of Mon Amour Coffee & Wine on West 238th Street, says he doesn’t condone people breaking the law by reopening before the state says they can, but he definitely understands their frustration. 

“Well if you want my honest opinion, I think we should open up 100 percent,” he said. 

“I understand all the situations and everything that is going on with COVID, but in light of everything that has happened over the past few weeks, why can we have thousands of people on the street protesting, but not a few people in a restaurant?”

Garcia — who also president of the state Latino Bar, Restaurant, and Lounge Association — speculates that if the infection rate goes relatively unchanged after thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against police violence across the city, then it will probably be safe for restaurants like his to take dine-in customers. 

“Let’s say nothing really increases over this period of time in terms of COVID,” he said. “That could be a good indicator that, you know what, maybe we can move up each phase a little sooner. I believe that restaurants really need to just reopen — and obviously follow some guidelines, which they already understand.”

Many larger companies must submit reopening plans to the state to ensure they provide adequate safety measures for both employees and customers. Smaller ones, however, won’t have to do that, Sorin said. Nonetheless, those businesses still will need to develop a way to keep workers — and customers — safe. To help with this, the Bronx Chamber has set up a web page, offering a number of resources businessowners could utilize as they get ready. 

“It’s just so much information, and our hope is that we have been able to narrow down and give businesses access to one site,” Sorin said. “As far as working a plan, we are using, as a preliminary guide, the information being provided by the state.”

In the meantime, the Bronx Chamber also is working with city officials in an effort to ensure businesses have access to the signage they need to hang promoting proper social distancing, as well as having the right number of face masks for its employees. 

“If you have a professional sign in front of your window that says when you come in, you have to keep a six-foot division and keep your mask on at all times — you know, rules and regulations — that builds towards the guidelines that the governor wants,” Sorin said. 

Businessowners shouldn’t wait to start getting their plans together, Sorin warns. In fact, the sooner these businesses get started, the better.

“Our businesses should not be waiting to the date of opening to start their process right now,” she said. “Every business should be preparing for reopening. On June 8 you shouldn’t be scrambling. You should be ready.”