Nov. 17, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
About 80 attendees gathered outside a Long Island City restaurant Friday to bring attention to the hardship facing many small businesses.
Elected officials and a coalition of Queens business owners met outside Little Chef Little Café, located at 5-43 48th Ave., and called on the federal government and local leaders to help them get through the economic crisis and navigate stricter lockdown measures before they are forced to permanently close.
The business owners appealed to city, state and federal officials for financial relief and other assistance. Organizers used the hashtag “SAVE OUR SMALL BIZ” to highlight their cause and several supporters carried signs with “rent relief” written across them.
The event was organized by the Western Queens Small Business Council, small business owners and other local business advocates. State Senator Jessica Ramos, Assembly Member Ron Kim and Assembly members-elect Zohran Mamdani and Jessica González-Rojas were also present along with Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Queens Borough President-elect Donovan Richards.
Organizers took particular aim at Washington and said that the New York Congressional delegation needs to come up with a proper recovery plan that would include a bailout package and rent relief for small businesses.
“Get out of all the federal stuff and come home and help us,” said Roseann McSorley, the owner of Katch Astoria, who led the event.
“This is a crisis…the businesses in this borough and every borough are going to fail, we aren’t going to survive,” McSorley said.
McSorley said that small businesses should be treated like airlines and other major corporations that have been given federal funds.
Several business owners described the struggles they are facing to stay out of the red with restricted indoor capacity and earlier closing times being of particular concern to restaurant and gym operators. They said that they have received little direction from the city and state with regard to the ever-changing regulations.
They appealed for clearer COVID-19 operating guidelines that are translatable and understandable.
That message was echoed by Ramos who said that Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed to help small businesses through the pandemic.
“The governor has been twiddling his thumbs for the past seven months, he’s done nothing,” Ramos said.
“You’re [Cuomo] driving our economy into the ground and it’s going to be so hard to dig ourselves out of this hole if you keep digging us in further and further,” she said.
“We need economic relief. If you need us to stay home, pay us to stay home.”
At the city level, Council Member Van Bramer said that there is legislation sitting in the city council that would provide immediate relief for small businesses.
Van Bramer said that there is now a greater urgency to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and the Commercial Rent Control Act– two bills that were introduced before the pandemic. He said both are being stymied by “big real estate.”
“The Real Estate Board of New York does not want relief for small business owners and they have put their money behind candidates that will shill for them,” Van Bramer said.
“We need to get big real estate out of the business here, out of the way of progress, because they don’t …[care] about working people,” he said.
Van Bramer said that the current economic system depends on the poverty of small business owners and their respective employees. “You don’t have people with hundreds of billions of dollars unless you have millions of people worth virtually nothing.”
REBNY was unable to be reached to respond to Van Bramer’s comment but has said in the past that it supports a federal stimulus to help businesses get through the economic crisis.
The event also served to highlight the struggles of the local arts community, which has been decimated by the economic downturn.
Rebecca Trent, the owner of The Creek and the Cave comedy club, fought back tears as she described how she was forced to close her business for good last week.
“[It] was the most heartbreaking thing that I have ever had to do,” she said.
Trent said that local artists are also in need of relief too because they are the “life-blood” of the city.
“How dare you governor Cuomo turn your back on these artists, they are the reason New York City exists,” Trent said.