“As a business you want to be able to put aside a little bit just for a rainy day,” said Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District Executive Director Glenn Greenidge. “And this is a big storm.”
With countless businesses closing during the coronavirus crisis, Queens Chamber of Commerce President Tom Grech has a message: “Even though business and life has kind of paused you should not be pausing your marketing efforts to make sure people know who you are, what your business is.”
Grech acknowledged that’s easier said than done as marketing budgets have been slashed and employees furloughed. He said 90 percent of chamber members have 10 or fewer employees.
“If you’re home, if your business is down, take some time to sit back and reflect on what you want your company to become as an organization,” he said.
Grech said the biggest concern is the fear of the unknown.
“I think everybody’s thinking the same thing whether you’re a business owner or an employee, public, private [which] is, ‘When will normal, if it ever will be defined as normal, come back?’” he said, adding, “A lot of businesses are chomping at the bit to reopen. People want to get back to their jobs.”
The “pause” put on businesses by Gov. Cuomo will start to end May 15, though things will not reopen anytime soon in the city. Still, Grech thinks the timing is opportune.
“We’re moving into spring and summer,” he said. “There’s a natural propensity to want to be outside and go out and do things. The end of the pause could probably not come at a better time.”
There is, however, a flip side to that.
“My concern is that people now have become so accustomed over the last eight weeks to buy everything from dog food to groceries to clothing online because everything is shut, that it’s going to be a tough habit to break,” Grech said.
He said shopping locally means “The job you save may be your own” because it not only makes a shopper feel good but allows the owners to pay rent, employ workers and spend money in the area themselves.
Upcoming online seminars
A series of online chamber events for small businesses looks to help with the situation. Monday saw a “Be Ready When NY Opens for Business” webinar.
Among the attendees were a travel agency owner worried about when travel will resume and a transportation company that usually takes people to airports but has pivoted to delivering meals.
Grech said some businesses are “doing well by doing good,” pivoting from normal operations while keeping workers employed.
Plaxall in Long Island City is making personal protective equipment. Bourbon Street in Bayside has been making meals for first responders.
There are several upcoming webinars that people can register for on the chamber’s site.
Today, May 14, at 2 p.m. Paul Rosenblum of Numerex Services will cover what to do with Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance money when it is received, how specific businesses are affected by COVID and how to rethink business when it is over.
On Friday at 11 a.m. business readiness and an approach to discovery will be discussed with a half-dozen speakers.
At 2 p.m. Dahiana Genao of TD Bank and Juan Gonzalez of the Business Center for New Americans will talk about managing credit in times of crisis.
On May 19 at 2 p.m. the city’s Commercial Lease Assistance Program will address the state moratorium on evictions, how to pay real estate taxes and utilities during the business closures, where to turn for legal help and other inquiries.
On May 20 at 2 p.m., Gerardo Rodriguez of the Business Outreach Center will discuss business planning during and after COVID-19 in a Spanish-speaking webinar with resources for personal finance spreadsheets, business financial projections and legal assistance.
Joshua Bienstock of the New York Institute of Technology School of Management will discuss the future of telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements on May 22 at 9:30 a.m.
Rosenblum and Tshering Gurung of the BCNA will speak on May 26 at 10 a.m. about bookkeeping and how not to trigger an IRS audit.
On May 29 at 2 p.m. marketing strategist Petia Abdur-Razzaaq will speak about easy-to-implement digital marketing strategies to market restaurants during the crisis.
Business owners and employees can visit queenschamber.org.
Other efforts and concerns
Grech noted that restaurants shifted to takeout and delivery only right before St. Patrick’s Day.
“I can’t imagine the amount of beer and potatoes and corned beef that are sold during that week that’s never going to be made up again,” he said. “And people are looking at it and saying, ‘How do I continue to go on?’”
The chamber also launched its official account on the Chinese multipurpose app WeChat to support Chinese-language businesses during the crisis. The account, under the user name QueensLife, provides information for businesses and employees, including descriptions of grants and loan programs, frequently asked questions, application guidelines, paid sick leave and more.
The webinars will provide information at a time when owners need it. Sunnyside Shines Executive Director Jaime Faye-Bean said one woman who owns hair salons in the Bronx reached out to her.
“She just had no idea where to start,” Faye-Bean said.
Sunnyside Shines has “widened the net” to work with anyone who comes to them.
“Those of us who are working in small business development, we need to be as generous as possible in giving guidance,” Faye-Bean said, adding that she’s hearing from many businesses who aren’t with a BID or merchant’s association.
Her advice for business owners is to reach out if they haven’t already.
“That’s really the best way that we’re going to survive this and get through this and come out on the other side is if businesses have access to organizing resources,” Faye-Bean said.
She said owners who have applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans are having issues trying to meet conditions for potential forgiveness as 75 percent of the money has to be spent on keeping full-time staff on payroll but not all have the capacity to get back and running to satisfy the requirements.
“Some business owners, honestly, are in a state of despair just wondering how they’re going to recover from this,” Faye-Bean said.
She said some owners in the retail sector have asked furloughed employees to come back only to be told no because they were making more off unemployment.
It’s a situation “which puts the employer in a very tough position because if they are to hire other folks and then report that they’re hiring new workers because the old workers refused employment then their unemployment becomes invalidated,” Faye-Bean said, adding many business owners feel like “they’re between a rock and a hard place.”
She said she also has “tremendous concern” that consumers won’t have money to spend even when the crisis ends.
“I don’t think we really understand yet the full scale of the devastation that this is going to wreak on our neighborhoods,” Faye-Bean said.
‘Capacity and demand’
Greenidge said small businesses won’t return to their full potential right away and that there will be a lapse in capacity and demand.
“There’s still a whole reluctance for people to come out without the proper testing being done,” he said.
Greenidge said it’s not only the business owners who are worried but some of the smaller landlords as well. They’re not getting income even if property tax payments are being delayed.
“At some point in time it’s going to be catch-up time,” Greenidge said.
He also recommended that businesses look into alternative streams of income, noting that some restaurants have been having success with takeout sales.
“If takeout wasn’t one of your specialities, certainly that’s something for the restaurants to take a look at,” Greenidge said, adding that “business is about adapting.”
He said owners need to be creative, such as dollar stores on Sutphin Boulevard being advised to sell souvenirs here as more apartments are being built so the newcomers don’t need to go into Manhattan to buy them.
Greenidge compared the pandemic to how life changed after 9/11.
“This is also going to cause a shift in how our businesses do business,” he said as federal unemployment is officially nearing 15 percent.
Woodhaven BID Executive Director Raquel Olivares said she’s seen some restaurants in her area reopen.
“But, of course, the concern is if they are going to have enough clients to pay the bills and to stay open just for deliveries and takeout,” she said.
Some businesses are “testing the water,” by opening for limited days and hours. Another method is trying to accommodate prices for customers “just to see if that will motivate people to spend. But the reality is that money’s tight and people don’t have the money to be calling these restaurants and ask for delivery,” Olivares said.
She also said businesses might first open at limited capacity but that the rent would still be the same. She wonders how owners will make that work.
“Are they going to be able to make it?” Olivares said.