Policy Symposium Speaks to Small Businesses in the Time of COVID

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Several shuttered businesses along Church Avenue in Brooklyn. Photo from Google maps.

The Center for Urban Future (CUF) and HSBC Bank co-hosted a virtual policy symposium yesterday to discuss what can be done to help minority-owned businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Called “How to Help Brooklyn’s Immigrant & Minority-Owned Businesses Rebound from the Pandemic,” the event featured two representatives from the Center for Urban Futures, two local business owners, the Chief of Staff and Executive Vice President at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and representatives from HSBC Bank, TruFund Financial Services and Renaissance EDC.

Borough President Eric Adams
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
Roxanne J. Persaud
State Senator Roxanne J. Persaud

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (D) and State Sen. Roxanne Persaud (D- Canarsie, East New York, Brownsville, Mill Basin, Old Mill Basin, Sheepshead Bay, Bergen Beach, Marine Park, Flatlands, Mill Island, Georgetown, Ocean Hill, Starrett City) were in attendance as well.

CUF Executive Director, Jonathan Bowles explained that Brooklyn has the most minority and immigrant-owned businesses out of all five boroughs, and he said that these are the businesses that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

“It is clear to us that ensuring economic recovery will need to include new efforts to help minority and immigrant-owned businesses come back strong,” he said. 

Adams touched on multiple issues including how some small and microbusiness owners feel that the city government hinders them.

“Government must get out of the business of being in the business of businesses,” Adams said. “The constant level of navigated bureaucracy of the Department of Buildings, the bureaucracy of the Department of Consumer Affairs, particularly those businesses where they’re constantly fined, we use these citations as a form of taxation.”

Intrusions of the government into businesses is not the only issue that people brought up. Sibté Hassan, the owner of Pakistani restaurant BK Jani that opened on March 3 spoke about the difficulty of having to pay his employees with limited revenue coming in and without getting financial aid.

“If you have a three people team like I have a three people team — I had a four people team at some point — I cannot access bank money. No way it’s going to be possible,” Hassan said. “I was lucky to basically save money and I’ve been saving for a bit. So, I help out my employees out of pocket.”

Persaud brought up the Small Businesses Crime Prevention Bill, which she said New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) vetoed. She said that the state senate will try again to make it work.

“Small businesses are sometimes a target,” Persaud said. “So we wanted to make sure they felt comfortable in their spaces and we wanted to fund them — you know, improving their lighting, improving their security system and things of that nature.”

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s Chief of Staff and Executive Vice President Samara Karasyk spoke as well, implying elected officials to not pass legislation without thinking of the potential impacts on small businesses first.

“Please stop passing any bill that increases the cost on a business, because right now they are hanging on by a thin thread, if they’re still able to hang on,” she said. “We think about a third of our businesses are never going to come back. This is the beginning of a long process.”