Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Small business owners hope for future relief

A sign hangs at Building on Bond, thanking patrons for the memories. Photo by Courtney Guarino

Small business owners, residents, and city council members gathered outside a boarded up restaurant in Boerum Hill,  yesterday, calling for affordability and stability for small businesses.

“We haven’t really seen the government step up the way that they need to step up,” Steve Levin, City Council member for District 33 in Brooklyn, said. “In April we had a call with all of our federal counterparts and the message was to hang on, by the end of May we should have a good stimulus package. Summer came and went, no stimulus package. Small businesses need help, landlords need help.”

Phil Morgan, owner of Building on Bond, stands in front of the permanently closed restaurant. Photo by Courtney Guarino

Phil Morgan, owner of eatery Building on Bond, was forced, like many, to shut its doors due to the impact of COVID-19. Had Morgan been provided rent relief from his landlord, the restaurant would have celebrated their 13th anniversary this month. Throughout his speech, Morgan strained on the importance of building community through small businesses, and grieved at the loss of no longer being able to do so at his restaurant. 

“We created a neighborhood joint, where people can hang out, get their coffee, get their lunch, take their business meeting, have a first date, get engaged,” Morgan said. “It was about being a part of the community. And when I said this to my landlord he said, ‘I don’t give a sh*t.’”

Many of Morgan’s colleagues are doing about 10-30% of their sales from last year, he said.  Prior to COVID-19, Morgan was pulling in about $150,000 in sales. And that was during a slow month. Using his colleagues’ percentages as a measure, had he been open now, the restaurant’s sales would be around $20,000. With a monthly lease of $25,000, that would leave him with $5,000. Like many other restaurants facing the same problem, it’s just is not enough cash to make it work and the landlords are unbendable. 

A letter of closure hangs on the window of Building on Bond. Photo by Courtney Guarino

“My landlord was not willing to do anything, all he wanted was rent and that just doesn’t work,” Morgan said. “I negotiated with him for five months and the only thing he was willing to do was either get all of his rent or I had to hand the lease back. It made no sense to open up with that lease so we had to shut down. The landlord would not come to the table.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, despite job growth totaling 3.8 million in the last 5 months, employment in food services and drinking is still down by 2.3 million since February. And as of September 23, about one-third of the city’s restaurants and more than one-half of its bars have closed.

Natasha Amott, owner of retail kitchenware store Whisk in Brooklyn, is one of the lucky small businesses to come out of COVID somewhat unscathed by rental fees. Her and her landlord have been handling rent on a month to month basis, with a large reduction given in March and April when the pandemic was at its worst. 

But before we even knew the word COVID-19, Amott lost two Whisk locations due to an increase in rent and property taxes. In 2012, she paid $10,000 in property taxes on her Manhattan location. In just six  years, she saw over a 400% increase in property taxes to $54,000, forcing her to shut the doors. And that’s without even factoring in the cost of rent. 

Her past experiences, compounded with the inequities on commercial rent and property taxes that COVID-19 has illuminated, forced her to take a look at the bigger picture. 

“We need to look at new ways to imagine how businesses can start up,” Amott said. “We should be looking at changing how the standard lease works so we are not stuck with the property tax burdens so often. What I’m calling for is a reimagination on how we allow these contracts to develop.”

Megan Rickerson, owner of bar Someday Best, opened her doors July 2019 and has been able to stay afloat through the pandemic. At one point, she was doing it all– her chef taught her how to cook and  she made cocktails to keep overhead costs as low as possible. Rickerson would like to see relief for the landlords, too, in hopes of a trickle down effect on the tenants.

“My landlord is a decent person but he’s also saying he has no idea how long he can work with us because he is trying to stay afloat and survive,” said Rickerson. “He has a limit on his abilities. And I don’t know how long this is going to go for, so his abilities might run out next month.”



Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020

COVID-19 hampers Fashion Week for photographers

Daniel Karel September 18, 2020

On the heels of revelation that Trump downplayed the covid threat, voters question rallies resuming

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 16, 2020

Overburdened mothers in Pakistan are relieved as schools reopens

Quratulain Tejani September 13, 2020

Students from different parts of the world struggle as schools reopen during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang September 12, 2020

Special needs students face learning obstacles during Covid-19

Courtney Guarino September 12, 2020

Back to school – COVID-19 style 

Isabel Beer September 12, 2020

The new normal for school life is abnormal in Michigan

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 11, 2020

California School District Parents and Teachers Clash About Return to School

Norah Hogan September 10, 2020

A tribute to the mask pioneers

Bohao Liu July 11, 2020

Air pollution in China rebounds to pre-COVID level

Hannah Zhang July 11, 2020

ICE takes aim at international students

Maria Abreu July 10, 2020

Chinese students trapped by new ICE policy

Zishu Sherry Qin July 10, 2020

New ICE policy adds more turmoil to the lives of international students

Shiyu Xu July 10, 2020

Lawsuits follow ICE policy barring international students who are taking online classes

Joanna Lin Su July 10, 2020

Economists say the US needs a bold, generous fiscal response. Congress is likely to disappoint. 

Ahmed Mohamed July 9, 2020

Overseas Singaporeans have pandemic obstacles to voting

Yifan Yu July 9, 2020

Proximity sensors and hygiene stations are the “new normal”

Joanna Lin Su July 9, 2020

 Tour ticket vendors miss the hustle and bustle of Times Square

Narkwor Kwabla July 8, 2020

Dengue outbreak could be a greater threat than covid in Singapore

Yifan Yu July 8, 2020

Corporate bankruptcy: ‘A story that’s not going away’

Gaurav Sharma July 7, 2020

Beijing reopens as the second wave of coronavirus dies down

Hannah Zhang July 6, 2020

Masks or no masks?

Bohao Liu July 5, 2020

Varsity Flu

Madeline Gunderson July 3, 2020

Rail travel in China is popular during the pandemic and filled with safety measures

Bohao Liu July 3, 2020

Brazilian international student caught in US travel ban.

Marina Guimaraes July 3, 2020

MTA faces crisis following COVID shutdown

Daniel Girma July 2, 2020

Easter Market goes back to its roots

Kyla Milberger July 2, 2020

China’s Airline Industry Aims to Lure Back Passengers with Unlimited Flight Pass

Zishu Sherry Qin July 1, 2020

US corporate debt soars during coronavirus outbreak

Gaurav Sharma June 30, 2020

In Singapore, gay pride goes online

Yifan Yu June 29, 2020

The Hair Room reopens

Shiyu Xu June 29, 2020

A second wave of the coronavirus creates travel woes in Beijing

Hannah Zhang June 29, 2020