The level of anxiety in the air is palpable; it is difficult to know what our near future holds. We have been struggling to adjust to this new life, calling it the “new normal.” Little about our current times is normal. We have modified and adapted our daily routines, taking Zoom classes, going on Netflix binges and, for some unknown reason, baking sourdough bread.
As we navigate this uncharted territory, there is a glimmer of light shining through the darkness. Coronavirus numbers seem to be slowly and steadily trending in the right direction. This is not by chance. It took the hard work of thousands to get here. Frontline workers, healthcare professionals and yes, even government bureaucrats, have dedicated themselves and worked around the clock, sacrificing and giving of themselves more than we could have asked and more than we shall be able to thank them.
Grinding the largest economy in the world to a halt has had severe consequences. It was a necessary step in the effort to save lives, but thousands of families are now left bearing the cost of this enormous economic hit. We owe them every opportunity to survive in the coming months.
One solution is legislation that I have introduced to enact a Tax Holiday for small businesses. No sales tax for three months on any purchases under $250 at any small business with under 100 employees. This will help incentivize consumers to shop locally. It is vital that we keep as many local shops open for business as possible. Our economy will be devastated if there is a tidal wave of closures.
We have an obligation to help those who have suffered for something that was never within their reach to control. The need for action goes beyond the right thing to do; it is the necessary thing to do as well. In New York 81 percent of small businesses have fewer than 10 employees. Small businesses in New York make up over half of all private sector jobs, and 4.1 million jobs are small-business jobs. This is not a problem we can wring our hands over and just hope for the best.
New York is better equipped to handle a downturn than the nation as a whole. During the Great Recession, unemployment dropped by 5 percent nationally but only by 1.1 percent in New York. Similarly, small business employment during that period fell 2 percent in New York compared to 6 percent nationally. There are a myriad of reasons for this discrepancy, from lack of big box stores in certain areas to the prevalence of entrepreneurial startups throughout the state.
In the past, when a store that was considered a neighborhood staple closed, there inevitably would be a news piece interviewing people who were surprised and saddened by what they perceived to be this sudden closure. It is rarely a surprise to the newly defunct business. If customers do not show up, no matter how beloved a local establishment is, that business is in grave danger.
Businesses for their part must meet customers halfway or, ideally, by the curb. This is not the time to rest on one’s laurels, to be old-fashioned or trust lost revenue will return. This is the time to bolster the channels that customers can use to reach you and can feel safe doing so. Make curbside pickup seamless, expand your delivery radius, update your website, strengthen your social media reach, shift workers from divisions that are stagnant to positions with potential. There is no magic bullet and no easy answer but at least for the time being, the business that can prove the most agile and adaptable has the best shot at surviving and succeeding.
There have been banners, PowerPoints and memes that have all been utilizing a version of the same slogan, “We are all in this together.” It is a very nice sentiment but it should come with a second half. We are all in this together because we do not have a choice. We must pull everyone up or we will all fall. This is not a pessimistic outlook; this is an optimistic one. I believe we will. We will look out for our families, our friends, our neighbors and for strangers with equal compassion.
Daniel Rosenthal is New York State Assemblyman for the 27th District, in central and northern Queens.