Small business owners across Queens unite to demand help from local lawmakers

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Photo by Dean Moses

Small business owners from across Queens came together on the steps of Queens Borough Hall to call for immediate financial relief to offset loses brought on by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis on Wednesday, July 29.

Despite following COVID-19 protocols, the local business owners said they are drowning in debt, their bills are piling up and rent is nearly impossible to pay. Should help not come, many said they face the prospect of closing for good.

Organized by Queens Together and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the rally was supported by state Senator Michael Gianaris’ Small Business Advisory Committee, Business Improvement District directors and a handful of elected officials including Councilman Donovan Richards, the front-runner in November’s Queens borough president race.

“The leadership in this country has made this a bailout for Wall Street rather than Main Street. The bottom line is that many of the small businesses, the folks behind me and in front of me, are folks who put everything into investing in the American Dream,” Richards said. “When they opened a small business it was because they had that American Dream of contributing to the economy, of doing something different, adding to the culture and vibrancy of the borough, but instead at this moment they now are suffering a nightmare and partly because of policies that have done everything, even prior to COVID-19, to really not assist small businesses.”

Business owners noted that the financial health of several local businesses is not the only economic metric for the moment. Some local businesses are owned by and employ local people, they said.

“Small businesses are also families,” said Roseann McSorley, the owner of Katch Astoria. “We aren’t struggling only with our store rents; we are also struggling with our own home rents and costs of raising our families, and when a business closes its doors, it means dozens more families are faced with personal hardship.”

Queens Together, a nonprofit aimed at battling food insecurity, made a list of recommendations to local, state and federal lawmakers to help aid struggling businesses. The list includes a call for commercial rent relief, collaboration between city agencies, a local business focused reevaluation of the city’s procurement process, a permanent cap on the use of apps like GrubHub and Seamless in New York City and a new round of disaster grants.

Photo by Dean Moses

The group also demanded elected officials pressure insurance companies into expediting access to business interruption insurance claims, create tax incentives to encourage property owners to rent to tenant collectives and to expand existing grant programs that have offered businesses relief during the pandemic.

“Our representatives need to understand that if we continue to ignore the impending disaster of small business closures, we are looking at tens of thousands of job losses in Queens alone, the destruction of our neighborhood fabric, and the decimation of livable Queens communities,” said Jaime Bean, the co-founder of Queens Together.

Additional reporting by Dean Moses.