Myrtle Avenue small business owners discuss concerns with Ridgewood City Council candidate

NY: On tour with City Council Candidate Juan Ardila and State Senator Jessica Ramos
NY State Senator Jessica Ramos and City Council Candidate Juan Ardila speak with the owner of Tasty’s Diner in Ridgewood on Feb. 5, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

City Council candidate Juan Ardila and state Senator Jessica Ramos entered Tasty’s Diner to ask the establishment’s owner if he’d like to talk about his concerns as a small business owner.

“Concerns? We don’t have enough time or alcohol,” Tasty’s owner George Lagos chuckled.

But Lagos made some time, and spoke about the hardships of maintaining his business for what is nearly a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lagos, who noted Tasty’s has been in Ridgewood for 40 years, said not having indoor dining and getting “a bunch” of violations from the Department of Transportation for his outdoor setup are some of his biggest issues.

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a week ago that indoor dining will come back at 25 percent capacity on Feb. 14, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Lagos sees it as “short notice.”

“It’s a mess,” Lagos said. “You can’t expect people to bounce back after they’ve been closed. I’ve been fortunate enough that I haven’t closed, but somebody who’s been closed for the last eight weeks […] they need time to prep, they need time to rehire staff. You can’t just throw this together in a week and hope for the best.”

A chef of Tasty’s Diner in Ridgewood looks through the prep window on Feb. 5, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Ramos agreed “there’s been very little clarity” and “very little input from the restaurants themselves” when it comes to the state’s guidelines.

Ramos joined Ardila, a Democrat running for Council District 30, for a walk-through of Myrtle Avenue to talk with some local business owners and ask for their support by sporting a campaign poster on their storefront on Friday, Feb. 5.

Some of Ardila’s main platform points revolve around affordable and fair housing, public transportation and investing in education. When it comes to small businesses, Ardila told QNS he wants to help them get the resources and relief they need by “partnering with allies in Albany and Washington, D.C.”

He wants to help keep small businesses in their spaces by supporting rental assistance programs; restructuring to allow business owners time to recover; expanding the Visiting Inspector Program to ensure businesses can receive free consultation on compliance with city laws and licenses; reducing unfair fines from the city; and collaborating closely with the Department of Small Business Services to help businesses adapt to online platforms and equip them with various language access.

Ardila was critical of incumbent Councilman Robert Holden’s role in aiding small businesses. He cited instances of Holden voting “against the interests of working-class New Yorkers,” such as voting against the expansion of street vendor licenses, paid safe and sick leave, assisting displaced hotel workers and making rent regulation easier — all of which the City Council passed

“The incumbent, unfortunately, voted against extending outdoor dining in a time where businesses were struggling,” Ardila said. “He clearly hasn’t shown that much support for them.”

NY State Senator Jessica Ramos and City Council Candidate Juan Ardila talk to business owners in Ridgewood on Feb.5, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

When asked for his response to Holden’s calls to open indoor dining to 50 percent capacity, Ardila said it’s “irresponsible.”

Holden wants the governor to allow for the city’s restaurants to open indoor dining at the same capacity of Long Island, where there is a higher positivity rate of COVID-19 compared to the city, before more go out of business.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Ardila said, noting that although restaurant workers are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, many have yet to receive it.

Ramos, who endorsed Ardila in December, echoed his comments.

“We’ve gone through a really difficult time here in Queens. We’ve lost, I think, nearly 8,000 of our loved ones. Many of our families are still grieving. Opening up to 50 percent [capacity] for the sake of saving the economy, but putting everybody at risk is very, very irresponsible. Council member Holden continues to disappoint me every step of the way.”

Ramos explained she’s supporting Ardila because she doesn’t believe Holden is successfully representing the various communities in Council District 30, which encompasses the Queens neighborhoods of Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Woodhaven and Woodside.

“When you become an elected official, you have to become an elected official for every single one of your neighbors — no matter who they are, no matter if they voted for you, no matter if they can vote,” Ramos said. “You cannot continue to ignore communities of color in your district. Especially when they’re going through possibly the biggest struggle they’ve ever gone through in their lives. We’re here to uplift communities of color. We’re here to uplift all working people. We’re here to make sure our seniors are protected and that our children have a brighter future ahead of them, where they see themselves in power, [and] so that other Juan Ardilas who are growing up in this district now see that it’s possible to lead their communities in the way that Juan is.”

Ardila is confident he’ll win the primary as the “real Democrat” in the race. Holden, a registered Democrat, won the seat in 2018’s general election by running on several GOP party lines, after he lost to former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley in the Democratic primary.

City Council Candidate Juan Ardila and state Senator Jessica Ramos talk to voters in Ridgewood on Feb.5, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

That afternoon, three volunteers tagged along to distribute Ardila’s campaign flyers to passersby.

Michael Pereira, 24, was one of those volunteers. The Woodhaven resident said he sees Holden as a “divisive figure,” and that he doesn’t see his community of immigrants represented by him.

“He seems to put his own constituents against each other, and that’s unfortunate,” Pereira said.

After visiting about a dozen businesses on Myrtle Avenue’s business corridor, they all stopped at newly opened Pupusas Ridgewood on 71-20 Fresh Pond Rd. for a treat.

Ardila said Pupusas Ridgewood, a quaint space catered for takeout and delivery, has become “the spot” in the neighborhood.

The outside of Pupusas Ridgewood on Feb. 5, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Guillermina Ramirez, Pupusas Ridgewood owner, said navigating a new business during a pandemic has been “an odyssey.” But is thankful for the community’s support.

“Thanks to all of them, we’re still here,” Ramirez said in Spanish.

Ramirez, who’s lived in Ridgewood for more than 15 years, said she’s also counted on the support of her staff of three women.

Ramirez said she’ll be looking into the COVID-19 vaccination for her and her staff soon, saying “it should be a priority for everyone to protect themselves and the community.”

Guillermina Ramirez, owner (right) of Ricas Pupusas and her staff pose for a photo at her restaurant in Ridgewood on Feb. 5, 2021. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Ramos was one of the elected officials who urged Cuomo to add food delivery workers and to the groups eligible for the vaccine.

“I’ve been very vocal about vaccinating restaurant workers and hospitality workers precisely because we’re forcing them to work. We’ve created a desperation for work, because we have been unable to tax the wealthy and keep people home safely, at least for a few weeks until public health experts decide that it’s safe for us to come back out and interact in the way that we should,” Ramos said. “That would have been the responsible thing to do, and we can do it at any time — we can still do it. It’s never too late.”

Ramirez said she isn’t too familiar with the current local elected officials, but believes there are many ways to improve the neighborhood.

“More programs for schools to help children, they’re taking away a lot of programs for arts and things like that. Keeping the neighborhood peaceful,” Ramirez said. “Maybe a park for sports, adult literacy programs. Businesses need help too, now more than ever because of the pandemic, there’s always bills and debts, and their help means a lot. There’s still a lot to do.”