Being the bustling hub that it is, home to a Long Island Rail Road station and sitting along the main route for the Q10 bus which goes to John F. Kennedy International Airport, the Lefferts Boulevard area in Kew Gardens and its businesses were hit especially hard by coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.
As people were telecommuting and generally staying home more, business in the area suffered hard, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. While the worst may have passed, merchants still find themselves struggling to deal with restrictions that they feel just aren’t going away fast enough — even though they understand they are for everyone’s safety.
They got some relief when the state Legislature on Wednesday voted to reverse a number of coronavirus restrictions on restaurants and other small businesses. Gov. Cuomo set deadlines on others throughout May.
The previous lessening of restrictions that increased capacity for indoor dining to 50 percent was a welcome change for many, but they also said it was not enough.
With restrictions on indoor dining and maximum occupancy for small businesses continuing to lessen, shops on Lefferts are beginning to recover, but for some, the changes do not yet mean much.
The Potter’s Wheel, the Village Diner and the Last Call Bar are three very different kinds of establishments with three different types of clientele, yet they all find themselves struggling in similar ways.
Restaurants or bars that are fortunate enough to have open space in front of their shops for seating or tables can finally take advantage of the warming weather to welcome more customers for outdoor dining as a chance to increase their revenue, but not all establishments are so lucky.
“It’s not better than before the pandemic, but it’s better than before,” said Theo Mavros, manager of the Village Diner, about the increase to 50 percent capacity for indoor dining and how it has affected his business.
While still finding the time to laugh, Mavros said the Village Diner has been hit by the pandemic just like many other restaurants and small businesses. Even with the increase in the number of customers allowed to dine in, and the good amount of space they have for outdoor dining, business is just not the same because people are not coming out to eat.
“I wish we had the problem that we can’t fit people, but right now people are scared, they are not coming out too much,” he said.
Still, Mavros says there has been an overall increase in business, which he has especially noticed since people have been getting the vaccine.
“Since the city has been opening up more, people feel more safe,” he said. “Since the vaccination people feel more safe.”
Grace Anker, owner of The Potter’s Wheel, said the lessening of restrictions was not changing how she is doing things, because she has already had to make so many changes to how the shop operates.
“Now, everyone has to reserve a time to be here, which is a change. And you have to sign up for a monthlong series,” she said. Before the pandemic, anyone could come in for a couple of hours at a time.
Anker explained that the new way of doing things is not because she wants to turn people away — she just wants to ensure that her customers are being looked out for, even if it means that she might not get as much business.
“We follow restrictions because we want to maintain everyone’s comfort level and safety, and when necessary we impose greater restriction on it,” she said. “But what does that mean for our business? It means that we’ve had to struggle.”
The owner of The Last Call Bar, who gave her name only as Pam, said the last change in guidelines did not mean much at the moment.
She explained that the increase to 50 percent did little to help her because she was still having to deal with other restrictions, the biggest one being the limit on how late the bar can stay open.
It isn’t about how many customers she has at any one time, she said but rather how long those customers can stay.
“I’ve noticed no change at all because I have loss of time — they’re still not giving me my time back,” she said. “Before the pandemic legally our restaurant was allowed to say open ’til 4 in the morning, now we’re not; now it’s 12 o’clock.
“I’m a small place so I’m never crazy busy, I don’t necessarily need the capacity,” Pam said. “What I need is my time back.”
She said occupancy does not matter if the bar is not allowed to be open when it would typically be the busiest.
She also expressed her frustration at how the time restriction was seemingly arbitrary, pointing out how catering halls are allowed to stay open until 1 a.m. while they host far more people than her place could ever even fit.
“In catering halls, there’s 200 people in there drinking just the same and they are allowed to stay open until 1 a.m. What is the sense behind that?” she asked
After expressing her frustrations, she acknowledged her fortune at having made it through the pandemic when many other businesses have failed.
Pam attributes that to luck and longevity, while at the same time admitting that all of the restrictions are taking their toll
“I’m very lucky,” she said. “I’ve been here for 13 years. That’s why I was fortunate enough to make it through, but it’s becoming impossible now, being closed for months and months with zero income.”