Dec. 16, 2020 By Christian Murray
A group of Sunnyside business owners joined together on Queens Boulevard Tuesday to call on elected officials to help them get through the pandemic.
The business owners, representing bars and restaurants on Skillman Avenue and Queens Boulevard, said that they need relief as their revenue shrinks yet costs remain high. They said that the closure of indoor dining, which went into effect Monday, is likely to put many local restaurants out of business.
“We need some help from the government,” said Niall Costello, co-owner of Claret Wine Bar on Skillman Avenue. “We are down to four days a week, have minimum staff…and we are trying to keep them employed.”
He added that the winter months are not easy in the best of times for bars and restaurants—let alone with the shutdown.
“January, February and March are tough months in the restaurant business anyway without a pandemic,” Costello said. “In winter it’s tough with 100 percent indoor dining—with none it’s impossible.”
Business owner Niall Costello of @ClaretWineBar speaks at a rally in #Sunnyside Tuesday about the need for help from the government to keep small businesses like his going. @brentoleary #woodside pic.twitter.com/6YkQzEE4u5
— QueensPost (@queenspost) December 16, 2020
Other business owners discussed how they have had little choice but to let employees go and are struggling to cover hefty fixed costs such as insurance and rent.
Brent O’Leary, who is running for the 26th Council seat and organized the rally, said that small businesses were already facing a crisis before the pandemic hit.
“This is a crisis on top of crisis,” he said. “Businesses were already dealing with skyrocketing rents,” O’Leary said, adding that “they are now being asked to pay those rents while being shut down.”
O’Leary said that the business owners need rent relief, government grants and additional funding through the Payment Protection Plan, a federal program used to help business owners pay their employees.
He said that the city council also needs to pass the Small Business Job Survival Act, which provides brick-and-mortar businesses with 10-year leases and the right to renew.
O’Leary said that small businesses are unfairly bearing the brunt of the crisis, as they are still required to pay full rent despite the severe restrictions. He said that landlords need to share the hardship by providing relief.
Nick Murphy, co-owner of Bar 43, said that some restaurants were able to get by with indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, while the weather was good.
“To get rid of 25 percent [indoor dinning capacity] and expect us to operate in the rain, wind and the snow—it’s impossible,” Murphy said.
Murphy said that government officials have been expecting a second COVID-19 wave for months and that a plan should have been in place. “We shouldn’t be out here begging for help today. They should have had a plan.”
Meanwhile, Peter Maguire, co-owner of the Wild Goose on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside, said that the bar and restaurant industry was being treated unfairly. He said that when he goes into the supermarket or Home Depot nobody asks to check for his temperature or provide contact information. He said the restrictions were too severe.
Czarinna Andres, who formerly owned Bings Hallmark on Greenpoint Avenue and now co-owns the Queens Post, said that covering payroll is a big worry, particularly when rent is high. She said that government officials need to come up with a plan to help all brick-and-mortar stores.
Meanwhile, Sofia Moncayo, owner of Glory MMA on 47th Street, said that many small businesses in Sunnyside and Woodside are operated by long-time residents and need the community’s help.
“They are owned, run and staffed by families, neighbors and friends,” she said. “They support community events.”
Moncayo, who helps run the food pantry at Mosaic Church in Sunnyside, said that many local businesses have been donating food, which helps feed thousands of people per week..
She urged residents to spend at least $25 per week on local eateries to help keep them going. “This will produce revenue that will help many of them keep their lights on– as opposed to seeing them shut their doors.”