Bronx BIDs react to Coronavirus pandemic, provide hope for businesses

MPBID’s supplementary sanitation team disinfecting and sanitizing street amenities.Photo courtesy of the Morris Park BID
MPBID’s supplementary sanitation team disinfecting and sanitizing street amenities.Photo courtesy of the Morris Park BID

Coronavirus is not just affecting people’s health – it is also greatly affecting the Bronx economy and its local businesses.

In the midst of the pandemic, businesses across the Bronx, New York City, New York state (and the country, for that matter) have closed down indefinitely, and are uncertain when they will once again open their doors to customers.

As a result, local business improvement districts across the borough have stepped forward to provide support these businesses who are in dire need of assistance during this difficult economic period.

“A lot of the business in this area has been decimated, to be honest,” said Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street BID. “This BID was started in 2009, so although we didn’t experience the impacts of 9/11 or the Great Recession of 2008, this is still unlike anything many of us have ever experienced.”

Goodman explained that many of the bars in his area are only open approximately 85 days throughout the year, during most of the Yankees baseball season.

He said that local bars such as Billy’s, Stan’s, The Dugout, Vega Alta Sports Bar, Yankee Twin Eatery and Yankee Tavern rely almost entirely on the baseball fans who venture to Yankee Stadium during the season.

Retail stores selling Yankees gear and merchandise, such as Sammy’s Fashion and S&A Sports are also stuck in limbo – and stuck with the inventory as a result. According to Goodman, many retail stores in the area underwent renovations in the past few years.

Since a shortened baseball season or even a cancelled baseball season is a possibly, Goodman said that this will be a waiting game, since so much of the business from the 161st BID’s area depends on the sport. He is expecting a drop off in business at least for April and May.

However, he mentioned a few solutions for the 161st Street BID’s businesses, including the NYC Employee Retention Grant, in which the city will pay up to $27,000 in cash to impacted businesses who have four or fewer full-time employees and have lost 25 percent of their revenue, in order to avoid layoffs. He added that small NYC Small Business Services, led by commissioner Gregg Bishop, would provide interest free loans to businesses in need.

According to the Morris Park BID, businesses providing essential services, such as grocery stores, hardware stores and pharmacies will stay afloat, but will have significant revenue deceases compared to the period before the COVID-19 pandemic began. There are several NYC Small Business Services programs that have been launched to provide support, including the Employee Retention Grant and the NYC SBS Continuity Loan Fund, offering zero interest loans up to $75,000 for businesses with fewer than 99 employees and that lost 25 percent of revenue.

“Clearly, all businesses have been affected, some very drastically – but it’s too early to say if any of the businesses will close down for good,” said Dr. Camelia Tepelus, Morris Park BID’s executive director.

Tepelus said that a big factor in this scenario will be the relationship between the business/commercial tenant and the landlord, and if any substantial rent relief will be negotiated, either on a voluntary basis, or as a mandate from the city, state or federal government.

Tepelus added that the Morris Park BID has been taking action in the last two weeks by having their supplementary sanitation team disinfect and sanitize street amenities that are most likely to be touch by pedestrians, such as public furniture, mail boxes and trash cans, and have also provided 24/7 available phone service for concerned business owners and residents.

Additionally, to convey a message of hope, strength and resilience, the MPBID decorated the BID’s storefront window with a lit rainbow.

“Never in the history of NYC and the country has their been a similar situation as this, where an entire economy would be mandated to stay closed for safety reasons,” Tepelus said. “However, corridors such as Morris Park Avenue have over 100 years of resilience. We have businesses that have been serving the community for decades, often multiple-generations of the same family.”

“BIDs provide real, boots on the ground essential services – and in Morris Park, small businesses and property owners should know that the Morris Park BID is here for them,” she added.

The Belmont BID’s businesses, including retail, pharmacies, restaurants and pastry shops, along with cultural institutions such as universities and hospitals have also been affected.

“Our store aisles are the sidewalks – and many of our businesses depend on the pedestrian foot traffic,” said chairman Peter Madonia of the Belmont BID.

When asked about the likelihood of these neighborhood businesses being closed down for good due to the circumstances, Madonia said that will depend on the longevity of the business and how long it has been established.

“Unfortunately, the businesses at risk in this scenario are the new ones that are just starting out,” he added.

Madonia added that some of the businesses in the area are shipping and scheduling curbside pickups for customers.

“This is an area that has survived several tough times – from the 1918 Influenza pandemic to World War II and the 1977 Blackout,” he said. “Although the impacts from those incidents seemed to be shorter term, I’m confident that when the dust settles, we can continue to promote and get customers back. Unfortunately, it seems like we will have to tread water and stay afloat until then.”

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