The Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce is addressing the impact of the coronavirus (or COVID-19) on the community and how they can lend support to local businesses harmed by the fears and stigma surrounding the virus sweeping New York City.
Local residents and business owners participated at a forum held on March 11 at St. George’s Church in downtown Flushing. They were joined by representatives from the Small Business Development Center, the Office of the Queens Borough President, and the New York City Department of Small Business Services.
Despite the fact that no case of the coronavirus has been detected in the community, John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said news reports about COVID-19 continue to reference and show images of Flushing.
“This type of misleading journalism and racial profiling has generated widespread fear and devastated local business,” Choe said. “Half the stalls in the Hong Kong Supermarket food court have already closed due to a significant drop in the number of New Yorkers shopping in Flushing, and we expect vacant storefronts, joblessness, and social repercussions for the foreseeable future.”
Local entrepreneurs confirmed the difficult economic environment created in the wake of the coronavirus panic and offered a number of creative suggestions.
Todd Leong, the owner of Leaf Bar & Lounge, offered to create low-cost neighborhood gatherings at his venue to encourage people to return to downtown Flushing.
Shweta Parmar, the owner of Gutsier Living, suggested bartering and exchange of services as a way to build more solidarity and self-reliance.
Mee Mee Xie, the owner of Wong Nutrition Center, encouraged local businesses to utilize technology like WeChat and text broadcasting platforms to reach a wider audience, including many people who speak Chinese.
At the forum, Sophiya Khan, project manager at the NYC Department of Small Business Services, presented information about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new plan to assist small businesses hurt by COVID-19.
Businesses with fewer than 100 employees that have experienced sales decreases of 25 percent or more will be eligible for zero interest loans of up to $75,000. The city is also offering businesses with fewer than five employees a grant to cover 40 percent of payroll costs for two months to help retain employees. Eligible owners who would like to learn more about these programs should call 311 for assistance.
Rosa Figueroa, director of the Small Business Development Center at the City University of New York, and Shurn Anderson, director of Economic Development at the Office of the Queens Borough President, also shared information about resources that could assist small business owners.
Local nonprofit micro-lender Renaissance Economic Development Corporation is also developing a new Emergency Small Business Relief Fund to provide immediate financial assistance to local businesses suffering from the coronavirus panic.
Recently, the chamber inaugurated a weekly solidarity lunch series to allay people’s fears, create a more positive image, and encourage visitors to support local business. The next Flushing community solidarity lunch will take place on Monday, March 16 at 1 p.m. at Four South Village on Prince Street and 38th Avenue. Those interested can RSVP via Eventbrite.
Taehoon Kim, president of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said they will continue working with community partners, including Renaissance, to develop innovative and creative ways to address what they consider to be a natural disaster in the community.
“There is no other neighborhood in the world as dynamic, diverse, or enterprising as Flushing — and we plan to keep it that way,” Kim said. “We are proud to provide leadership to ensure continued prosperity and safety for all those who live and work here.”
The chamber is also inviting small business owners to apply for the “Made in Flushing” business assistance program, which provides free marketing consultation, website design, social media, and video marketing to the community through a partnership with the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) Neighborhood 360 Program and local marketing firm, Sixty First Productions.
Aside from “Made in Flushing,” the chamber provides monthly open clinics in partnership with Google, the Small Business Development Center, and Kenvic Training. The chamber will also be scheduling community fairs and business expos in the coming months to provide opportunities for local business to connect with a wider audience and gain more customers.
Those interested in participating in upcoming open clinics or community fairs and business expos, can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.