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Photo courtesy of Flushing BID
The Flushing BID launched its Small Business Rebuild Initiative on May 16 by distributing PPE to local small businesses that have reopened.

After shutting down for two and a half months to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, small businesses in Flushing are preparing to reopen under a new initiative that will protect business owners and create a sense of safety for consumers.

The downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District on May 16 launched the Small Business Rebuild Initiative to help local small businesses regain opportunities in the post-coronavirus economic recovery. 

Flushing BID members were joined by Councilman Peter Koo and Sandra Ung from Congresswoman Grace Meng’s office at Bland Playground, located at 40th Road, to announce the Small Business Initiative funded by the Neighborhood 360 Grant provided by the NYC Small Business Services. 

The BID received $10,000 from the city and will distribute over 350 face shields, 6,000 masks and 100 pairs of gloves to small businesses, according to Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing BID. 

“During the last two months, the foot traffic in Flushing was down by 80 percent and a lot of restaurants lost at least 40 to 50 percent of businesses. Small businesses are struggling,” Yu said. “We hope to create a safe atmosphere in downtown Flushing to attract more consumers while keeping the small business workers safe through this initiative.”

According to Yu, quite a few restaurants and grocery shops in Flushing have recently reopened since the situation has been slowly improving in the city, while more are preparing to reopen soon. 

“Until the city is fully reopened we will not see the full recovery,” Yu said. “We’re the lucky ones. We are seeing the foot traffic coming back a little — a few weeks ago, there were some pedestrians. The best thing to do is to observe social distance, wash your hands, and just cover your mouth and those are the basic things that will carry us out of this whole predicament.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has affected small businesses in a variety of ways and has also presented a new set of challenges for business owners in the community. 

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, business owner Timothy Chuang received an influx of customers at two of his stores located on Main Street: NY Tong Ren Tang, a Chinese herbal store located at 40-34, and Xiang Fu Tang, a bubble tea shop at 40-52.

Since reopening his stores for takeout only, Chaung says foot traffic has dropped to at least 70 percent. 

“We are trying because we must pay the rent. We must be open. If we’re not open, even the government still wants to collect the property tax,” Chuang said. “We pay around $130,000 in property taxes per year for NY Tong Ren Tang and $200,000 per year for Xiang Fu Tang.”

Although Chuang applied for the Payroll Protection Program loan and received a total of $93,000 for Xiang Fu Tang, it wasn’t enough funding to pay the monthly rent of nearly $50,000 including property taxes, he said. 

“It helped our payroll but with other stuff we still have a lot of expenses,” Chuang said. “I don’t know where else to apply because the banks don’t want to give too much.”

Chuang is grateful for the Small Business Rebuild Initiative that will help all stores reopen. However, it’s only temporary, he said. 

“Some people will wear the mask and come in, but there are other people that are still afraid, and some of my employees want to come to work but are afraid of the virus,” Chuang said.

According to Yu, they’re working on reassuring the public that it’s safe to return to downtown Flushing, since businesses are taking precautionary steps to protect their employees and consumers. 

“In order to have the consumer back, we definitely need to provide the PPE for the entire community, ” Yu said. People need to feel comfortable that this is a driven community that everyone is doing their shares ranging from retail, the supermarket, the barbershops, doctor’s offices, etc. One thing we can say for sure is that many small businesses might be able to survive the first wave, then again if there is another shutdown, most businesses won’t be able to survive.”

The Flushing BID is receiving support from Koo, who has been helping with deliveries to Flushing residents during the pandemic. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic hit hard on our community, especially the small businesses,” Koo said. “We are here to help our small businesses to get through this difficult time.”

The community was suffering long before the virus even hit the city due to early and rapid declines in business and daily displays of reported xenophobia, Koo said. 

According to Human Rights Watch, in late April, a coalition of Asian-American groups that had created a reporting center called STOP AAPI Hate, reported 1,500 incidents of racism, hate speech, discrimination and physical attacks against Asians and Asian-Americans across the U.S.

In Queens, on April 26, a man allegedly saying racist things broke the phone of an Asian-American woman who tried to maneuver away from him, the New York Daily News reported. 

In response to the increased racist and xenophobic violence and discrimination against Asians and Asian-Americans, Yu said it’s unacceptable.

“They suffered just as much as the rest of the country. Most of the restaurants lost a line share of regular business, and during Lunar New Year the small business owners were already suffering,” Yu said. “They got hurt twice, most American businesses did not during Christmas and New Year. In terms of how we can get out is to do our share and fight this as a whole, no one can fight alone, especially the disease.” 

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