Brooklyn Borough President and Mayoral Candidate Eric Adams stood in the cold outside Balboa Restaurant, 1655 Bedford Avenue in Crown Heights today and accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of breaking the hearts of restaurant owners across the city as Valentine’s Day approaches this weekend.
In particular, Adams was vexed with Cuomo’s recent decree that restaurants can reopen again this weekend but are limited to a 25 percent filled capacity and a 10 p.m. closing time – guidelines which neighboring counties north of the city and on Long Island don’t have to follow.
“You are not only breaking our hearts by breaking the economy but also the backs of these small businesses in a real way,” said Adams. “It is clearly a time that we are going to have to think differently and smarter on how we deal with the two crises.”
But Cuomo reasoned that this move to reopen came in light of NYC’s decreasing infection rate and guidelines like opening at 25 percent capacity and closing at 10 p.m. keeps safety at the forefront at a time when vaccinations are slowly rolling out.
“We’re in a footrace with COVID, and the footrace is clear–it’s rate of vaccination versus rate of infection and we’re continuing to make progress on both fronts,” Cuomo said when announcing the guidelines.
Once the epicenter of the pandemic, NYC restaurants have been in a constant dance of reopening and closing based on guidelines set by infection and hospitalization rates. Restaurants saw a brief stretch of indoor dining in late September till Cuomo shut them down again in mid-December due to threats of increased transmission.
With all but the Bronx positive test rates staying under 6 percent, Cuomo made the decision to give the green light to open NYC restaurants Friday in time for Valentine’s Day this Sunday.
But while the city and state start releasing their hold, councilmembers and restaurant owners alike pointed out what they saw as hypocrisies and failures to take into account what they need to survive.
Chosen to host the press conference for its symbol of mom-and-pop eating establishments that serve as anchors in the community, Balboa Restaurant owners, Luis and Marisa Balboa, told KCP that opening at 25 percent would not be enough to sustain costs.
Adams noted that while he was a state senator, his office was just down the block on Bedford Avenue and he would often go to Balboa for lunch meetings and to enjoy their excellent Caribbean food. And now the Balboa couple find themselves doing the jobs of employees that they had to let go.
Echoing this sentiment was President of the Latino Restaurant Association Jeffrey Garcia who commented, “25 percent is just not enough. They’re not gonna make the tips, they’re not gonna make the money necessary to survive especially since the government has taken away a lot of the additional resources that they had when the pandemic first started.”
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Randy Peers called this an “equity issue” that treats the boroughs differently when one can travel a couple of miles into Long Island or New Jersey and find themselves eating inside a restaurant that’s filled up 50 percent.
“There’s absolutely no reason why New York City should be treated any differently than the other counties in the state,” he commented.
City Councilmembers Laurie Cumbo (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Downtown Brooklyn), Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), and Robert Cornegy (D-Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights) showed their support for small restaurant owners at the event as well, both clarifying that the requests of small restaurant owners where well within reach.
“It’s almost as if we are forcing them to shut their doors,” Cumbo said. “let’s make sure that we extend that time frame until midnight because the romance doesn’t really begin until after 10:00.”
“This is a small ask to extend the hours and to increase capacity,” Cornegy commented.