With no end in sight to restrictions brought in due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, small business owners in New York demanded a change else they will be forced to close for good.
Re-Open NY, a coalition of hundreds of small businesses, held a press conference on Wednesday in a park that overlooks the Statue of Liberty in Lower Manhattan. Re-Open NY say that the conference was their last “desperate cry” to save their businesses.
“The whole idea of this press conference was just to show that we are pleading and that we cannot hold on any longer. Stores are dying every day. Just yesterday I heard that three small businesses within my own community are closed. That’s three families,” Simcha Minkowitz said, the founder of Re-Open NY.
On March 22., Cuomo signed New York Pause, an executive order which mandated that all businesses deemed to be non-essential must shut their doors. It did not specify how long the order would be in effect.
New York has offered some public assistance, but Re-Open NY says they don’t want handouts, they want to work. Over two and a half months after closing, businesses owners cannot put food on the table for their families.
“People’s livelihoods are crumbling,” said Minkowitz.
Minkowitz recently put her heart and soul into opening a new store called Amore Fine Jewelry.
Now, her business is in the red.
“It’s very important that people know that you’re right, jewelry is not essential, but it is essential to me because this is what feeds our family,” she said.
Minkowitz founded Re-Open NY after a middle-aged man called her husband crying that his checks were bouncing and that he couldn’t pay his bills. After losing sleep over this story, as well as countless others she had heard, Minkowitz decided that something had to change.
“So I made a video,” she said. “The video went viral.”
A frustrated Brooklyn business owner asks why she and her husband can’t be trusted like the big box stores can. Let’s remember how this this is impacting entrepreneurs who want to feed their families. pic.twitter.com/JRNLQvZmT1
— Tova Herskovitz (@tovaherskovitz) May 15, 2020
Next thing she knew, 200 small businesses signed on to her group immediately.
“You’ll see stores closing all the time, every day I hear about more and more stores that are just calling it quits,” said Bruce Backman, the press person for Re-Open NY.
With an understanding of this dire public health crisis, Re-Open NY says that it can serve its patrons and open their stores safely by introducing reasonable measures to protect public health, such as wearing gloves, using sanitizing agents, and limiting the numbers of patrons and customers that they allow into their stores. They point out that small businesses are far more capable of limiting the foot traffic than big box stores such as Walmart, Target, and Costco.
“We have essentially created a society now where we’re pushing everybody to go to like three stores — and those stores have many more people in them, they’re much more dangerous insofar as spread would be concerned,” Backman said. “I’ve been to those stores — they’re packed with people. Smaller stores are much more able to limit the capacity of clients.”
Business owners in New York are holding out hope that things will change the next day, Backman said.
At first, the businesses were compliant and understood the need to lower the apex, which was expected to hit New York around mid-April. But as May rolled around and no changes were made, the Coalition realized it needed to take a stand. They demand that by the end of May all businesses must be allowed to open.
“Everybody locked down, I didn’t complain for a second to close my business. I didn’t complain and I didn’t yell at anybody. I was disappointed, I was sad, I was depressed, but I didn’t blame anyone. I understood what it was that I had to do,” said Backman.
“But at some point… We have to go back to our lives. We cannot do this indefinitely. We cannot live like this,” he said. “It’s not fair, it’s not right, it’s not American, it’s not constitutional.”
New Yorkers such as Peter Raven, a Manhattan clothing shop owner, actively defied mandatory closure orders over the past few weeks. According to ABC News, the police have been sent to his store on Lexington Avenue five times and he has never been issued a summons.
When Raven explained his reasoning he said, “We are not a country of sheep, but we have been treated like sheep.”
Governor Cuomo’s press office did not immediately respond for comment regarding the ending of restrictions on “non-essential” businesses.
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