The streets in the heart of downtown Jamaica nowadays are quite empty, as people continue to stay at home to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“It used to be a bustling transportation hub where people pick up all forms of transportation,” said Hope Knight, executive director of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation. “There were a lot of developments in the works as well, but there’s none of that today.”
One of Queens’ three regional business districts, downtown Jamaica is home to a variety of civic and cultural institutions, while its bustling transportation hub serves as a major gateway to New York City.
It is also home to a dynamic mix of national and independent local businesses and a variety of retail and food services.
However, since the coronavirus first struck in New York City, most small businesses in the area have been impacted, according to Knight.
“Businesses are basically shut down. There are very few businesses that are open in the area that are offering pickup and delivery services,” Knight said. “We never could’ve conceived a situation like this. Some landlords are asking for rent and there have been layoffs of staff.”
For Dawn Kelly, owner of The Nourish Spot — a neighborhood juice, smoothie and salad bar — business has been “magnificent.” The store has remained open offering curbside pickup service and customers can receive their packages via DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates or Seamless.
“In the bible, there’s a scripture that says God establishes you for such a time as this. Well, I believe this is the time,” Kelly said. “People realize that remaining healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet inoculates your body from disease, and so, people are really trying their best to eat healthier.”
Kelly opened The Nourish Spot, located at 107-05 Guy R. Brewer Blvd., in March 2016 with her two children, Jade Duncan, 29, and Owen Duncan, 31.
Of their seven employees — who are high school seniors — two opted to stay home in fear of contracting the virus. Her current employees have been working at the store since the beginning of the crisis.
“They come to work and put on a mask and gloves to make food for our clients, in spite of the fact that they’re heartbroken over the fact that they won’t be able to experience their senior year,” Kelly said. “Them coming to work provides a sense of normalcy that keeps them mentally okay.”
Overall, Kelly is grateful for the support of clientele and local elected officials during this unprecedented time.
“We’ve created a rapport with our clientele, and I had regulars before the virus hit New York City,” Kelly said. Now, I have new regulars that I know will continue to count on as Nourishers,” Kelly said.
In the meanwhile, Kelly is awaiting to hear whether or not she’s been approved for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
“I’d rather apply for it and have the money saved just in case I need it,” Kelly said.
According to Knight, many small business owners are interested in the PPP, a $349 billion loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Small Business Administration will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities, according to the SBA website.
In early April, the first round of PPP approvals left many small businesses without funds. Now, small businesses are getting a second chance at a financial lifeline as an additional $310 billion in government loans roll out April 27.
The GJDC has been assisting small business owners by redirecting various governmental programs and organizations that provide grant funding to small businesses.
They have also been distributing information on social media, webinars and zoom meetings, while also anticipating the needs of businesses when the economy reopens, Knight said.
“For small businesses, once they’re open, we really do have to support them,” Knight said.