While the winter is usually one of the most profitable times of year for many retail and mom-and-pop stores, lagging tourism, slow economic growth and a resurgence of COVID-19 pose big challenges during this winter season as small businesses continue to struggle to make ends meet.
The numbers speak for themselves. My office reported that more than 2,800 small businesses had permanently closed between March 1 and July 10, including at least 1,289 restaurants and 844 retail businesses.
Restaurants, retail, and personal services businesses have accounted for 33 percent of recent job losses, and the immigrant New Yorkers and communities of color who hold the majority of Main Street jobs have been hit hardest.
We can’t afford to leave our small businesses—the economic engines of our neighborhoods and anchors of our communities—out in the cold this winter.
If our city is going to create an equitable recovery from this pandemic, we have to prioritize aid and relief for small businesses that are crucial to that recovery.
We need to get creative about how we support and promote our small businesses this holiday season, and we need to act now. That means cutting red tape, helping businesses develop a digital footprint so they can compete with larger retailers for online sales, and pedestrianizing our neighborhoods and public spaces so New Yorkers are encouraged to walk, shop, and eat local.
The city should also facilitate more holiday markets and designate vacant lots for food festival pop-ups.
As outdoor dining and retail shopping prepares for the winter, keeping warm will be a critical need. The city should ease regulations on awnings and canopies so people can eat and shop outdoors even in bad weather.
We also have to keep sidewalks, curbs, and bike and bus lanes clear of snow and trash in order to keep commercial corridors accessible.
At a time when businesses are struggling to keep the lights on, we shouldn't nickel and dime them needlessly or bury them in red tape. Streamlining approval processes and relaxing prohibitive fees are critical measures the city can implement to help small businesses survive the winter.
The city should also allow businesses a “cure period” to address and fix any violations that do not pose an immediate hazard to the public instead of immediately issuing a fine.
Business Improvement Districts, chambers of commerce, and other organizations are already working with small businesses to put together events and special deals to encourage New Yorkers to shop local.
The city should elevate these efforts and expand their reach, as well as leverage LinkNYC terminals to promote nearby businesses.
We must do everything in our power to help small businesses navigate the challenges posed by this holiday season and make it as easy as possible for New Yorkers to shop local. There is no economic recovery for New York City without our small businesses.
I urge the city not to waste any more time and embrace our recommendations to kickstart that recovery.
Scott Stringer is the comptroller of the City of New York.