Neighborhood Restaurants, Bars Struggle to Hang On as Indoor Dining is Stalled

Restaurants are back…well sort of.

Mayor Bill de Blasio eliminated indoor dining last week, fearing a second wave of the coronavirus. Luckily, small business advocates and elected officials had been pushing outdoor dining plans to save the city’s struggling restaurants, bars, and cafes four months into the health crisis. 

The Bed-Stuy Restaurant Coalition, that’s cropped up to fight for more outdoor dining, has said that getting NYC’s Open Restaurant Program up and running was only half the battle though, now local small business owners are hoping the city continues to follow through. 

“I think it needs to be more permanent if we’re going to have a chance to survive,” said Charlotta Janssen, owner of Chez Oskar in Bed-Stuy, who has been particularly vocal about sidewalk permit zoning and outdoor dining for years, and is leading the coalition in her neighborhood.  

The restaurant program’s tracker shows that 7,031 city-wide establishments, and counting, are taking advantage of the streamlined, self-certified application process to have sidewalk or roadway seating. This program is designed to help food establishments re-open under Phase Two and Three with outdoor areas on a temporary basis.

In their listed concerns, Janssen and other restaurant owners said many restaurants do not have enough adjacent sidewalks, parking lanes, or rear-yard space to benefit from the program. 

They are also calling for legislation to legalize the use of heat lamps, lease incentives, and most importantly, rent and utility vouchers to assist small businesses through the fall and winter months while continuing to fight against the economic onslaught of COVID-19.

“Now that indoor dining is officially off the table, it is imperative that policymakers do everything that they can as fast as possible to support restaurants and bars, who have been financially crushed for four months as a result of the Covid-19 pause,” said Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. 

“Policymakers, landlords and banks urgently need to develop solutions that provide immediate rent relief, and restaurants need every opportunity to expand outdoor dining,” said Peers.

A recently released survey by the NYC Hospitality Alliance said that rent is still “a major problem” right now for restaurants and food establishments. 

Most surveyed said that they did not pay full rent in June. A percentage of business owners said they paid no rent at all, while 73 percent of landlords did not waive rent payments or refused rent deferments during the same time period. 

Only 10 percent of restaurants, bars and clubs were able to renegotiate their leases, said the survey.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said that while the Alliance respects the government and public health officials’ decision to postpone the anticipated reopening of indoor dining, the longer neighborhood restaurants and bars are forced to be closed, the harder it will be for them to ever successfully reopen. 

“Restaurants and bars have been making enormous financial sacrifices for four months, and their survival now depends on compensation reflective of those losses,” said Rigie. “This makes it even more urgent to forgive rent, expand outdoor dining and enact other responsive policies to save our city’s beloved small businesses and jobs.”

Neighborhood restaurants in the Bed-Stuy group, like Southern Comfort and Tradroom, are being squeezed for rent by their landlords. 

“We can’t leave anyone behind,” said Janssen, who luckily has owned her business property since 2015. She said there should be deferment for landlords and tenants.   

Eddie Amador, working with the Bed-Stuy Restaurant Coalition independently said, “We’re thankful to Borough President [Eric] Adams and Councilmember [Anthony] Reynoso for their tireless leadership on this issue, and we hope we can count on them to continue the hard work needed to save our great borough’s food establishments.”




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