The Queens Memory Project brings you the sixth episode of season two of the Queens Memory Podcast. This season we have collected the documented experiences of Queens residents during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In this episode, Queens small business owners share what it has been like to operate in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic -- their struggles and perseverance.
On March 20th, Governor Cuomo announced that New York City was going “on PAUSE” with an executive order, wherein all non-essential businesses were to close their doors. This included restaurants, shops, and other small businesses to reduce their workforce by 100%.
Food service was hit especially hard. New York lost an estimated $1.9 billion in sales and 250,000 jobs in March, according to a survey conducted by the New York State Restaurant Association.
Local advertising company and community blog, Give Me Astoria, established a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the Astoria Relief Fund. Founder of Give Me Astoria, Sonia Mylonas, along with designer Eleni Louca and Editor-in-Chief Lou Lou Chryssides, successfully raised $25,000 -- delivering over 5,000 meals to essential workers from over 100 local restaurants.
The fund provided monetary compensation for restaurants to bring back their employees to prepare and deliver meals to essential workers, though the team says many restaurant owners contributed more, as they were grateful to have a reason to work again.
Meanwhile, other non-essential businesses found new ways to work within the guidelines of the executive order.
Local audio and video business owner Jonathan Jetter was able to operate his company, Right Angle Productions, from his office, as the only person there. Jetter recalls working long hours in the uncertain days leading up to the lockdown as he tried to finish projects in case he was forced to halt his work. However, while business has slowed, Jetter has been able to keep his company up and running.
Jetter laments that no rent relief program for businesses has been instituted. (Note: Jetter was interviewed on 07/23/2020 and this episode was posted on 09/10/2020). According to a Hospitality Alliance survey, only 19% of New York City businesses paid rent in June, and only 26% of landlords waived any rent. An estimated 64% of restaurants in New York State may close as a result of the impact of COVID-19. Food blog Eater NY provides an ongoing list of local restaurants that closed their doors permanently during the pandemic.
Several bills have been proposed by New York politicians, including a bill to the New York City Council that would repeal commercial rent tax for the remainder of the pandemic. However, nothing has been enacted yet.
While the struggle to remain open has hit many business owners, those that have been able to remain operational have had to learn new ways of staying safe.
Demetrios Vasiadis, owner of 14th Street Laundry in Astoria, talks about navigating the safe operation of his laundromat -- deemed an essential business -- during COVID-19. Vasiais maintains a blog for the laundromat, in which he describes everything from new safety measures to changes in traffic conditions. He attributes an increase in business to the security and comfort the blog provides customers.
This episode of Queens Memory was produced by Jordan Gass-Poore’ in conjunction with Anna Williams, Briana Stodden, Jo-Ann Wong, and Natalie Milbrodt. Mixing and editing by Briana Stodden with music composed by Elias Ravin and the Blue Dot Sessions.
Special thanks for funding support from the New York Community Trust. Queens Memory is an ongoing community archiving program by the Queens Public Library and Queens College, CUNY.
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