Council aims to protect restaurants, small businesses
by Sara Krevoy
Sep 02, 2020 | 649 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
‘For Rent’ signs run rampant throughout the city’s storefronts, as small businesses struggle to pay rent.
‘For Rent’ signs run rampant throughout the city’s storefronts, as small businesses struggle to pay rent.
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Mayor Bill de Blasio says his administration is open to extending its outdoor dining initiatives past the Oct. 31 expiration, but that will likely not be enough to save local eateries.
Mayor Bill de Blasio says his administration is open to extending its outdoor dining initiatives past the Oct. 31 expiration, but that will likely not be enough to save local eateries.
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Three bills passed by the City Council last week will help to ease some of the pressures faced by New York City’s local eateries as they struggle to fight back against crushing financial blows dealt by the coronavirus pandemic.

The slate of legislation comes at a time when the existence of many of these establishments remains in a state of limbo.

One bill, sponsored by councilmen Francisco Moya and Mark Gjonaj, would extend a previously instituted cap on the amount of commission a third-party delivery service can charge restaurants for online orders through its platform.

It would also adjust the cap so that the delivery app would only be able to charge a business up to the actual cost of processing fees incurred by the platform for facilitating a customer’s transaction.

“This bill will provide our neighborhood mom-and-pop restaurants a temporary reprieve from the exorbitant fees charged by billion-dollar tech companies,” said Moya. “It’s a bit of breathing room they desperately need.”

“We’re all thankful to see the city’s positivity rate slow down, but restaurants are well aware that we haven’t outrun COVID-19 yet,” he continued. “They know the industry will be reeling from the pandemic’s effects for months to come. As legislators, we can and must make sure that they're not grappling with exorbitant fees from these third-party food apps while they're struggling to keep their shops on life support.”

A second piece of legislation, also sponsored by Gjonaj, will prevent third-party delivery platforms from charging restaurants for telephone calls that do not result in an order.

Both of these new measures, if signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, would become active immediately and remain in effect until 90 days after restaurants are able to resume indoor dining at maximum capacity.

The city and state, however, continue to leave a timeline for indoor dining across the five boroughs in flux, despite restaurants in other parts of New York being allowed to seat customers inside at half-capacity.

At a press conference on Thursday, the mayor expressed that his administration would first take stock of how schools perform once reopened in September before making any decisions on indoor dining.

“As more and more people come back to work, as schools begin, we’ll get to see a lot about what our long-term health picture looks like, and that’s going to help inform our decisions going forward,” he explained.

Local restaurateurs have been pleading with officials for an indoor dining pla, as they grapple with rent payments and the costs of complying with new health and safety regulations.

Thousands of eateries have implemented outdoor dining, and de Blasio indicated that the city is open to extending the initiative beyond its October 31st deadline, but that will likely prove insufficient as owners would need to spend additional money on outside heaters in preparation for the colder weather.

A survey of 500 restaurants and bars conducted by the NYC Hospitality Alliance revealed that more than 80 percent of those establishments could not pay full rent for July, with 37 percent unable to pay any rent at all that month.

These results, along with the increasing number of “for rent” signs plastered on storefronts, has triggered concerns about the future of the “Big Apple” streetscape.

“Our city’s small businesses are facing extinction, we need to do everything possible to help them in their fight for survival,” said Councilman Mark Levine, who sponsored a third bill that would impact restaurants and small businesses.

Levine’s legislation is a continuation of the SBS Commercial Lease Assistance Program, which provides small businesses with legal support in matters such as negotiating lower rents, applying for financial assistance and defending against unfair evictions.

“Expanding access to counsel for our residential tenants has had a dramatic impact,” noted Levine. “We need to build on this success by expanding legal assistance for commercial tenants as well.”

The City Council isn’t the only legislative body weighing in on the trials endured by mom-and-pop eateries striving to stay afloat. Federal lawmakers have proposed the RESTAURANTS Act, which would create a $120 billion stabilization grant program aimed at helping independent eateries navigate an industry transformed by COVID-19.

Under that legislation, which has gained bipartisan support, bars, restaurants and caterers that are not publicly traded or part of a chain with 20 or more locations would be eligible for aid.

Grants would cover the difference between revenues from 2019 and anticipated revenues through the rest of this year, and could be used to cover essential expenses including food, payroll, cleaning supplies, PPE and rent/mortgages.

The fund would also allocate $60 million for outreach to businesses owned and operated by women, minorities and veterans.

“Saving independent food and drinking establishments will literally save millions of people’s livelihoods,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng, a co-sponsor of the RESTAURANTS Act. “In Queens and across New York City, restaurants and drinking establishments play a vital role in providing jobs and contributing to our region’s economy. Failing to help these types of venues will greatly harm our borough and country’s recovery, and the lives of so many who are part of the service industry.”
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