NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The coronavirus pandemic has been brutal for small businesses, and some Manhattan business owners say they feel forgotten by the federal government.

Gem Spa was a corner store in New York’s East Village for a century, but after being forced to close for just a few months, it’s now gone, a casualty of the pandemic.

“I just couldn’t look in,” owner Parul Patel said. “It’s too painful.”

Patel’s family owned the store for 34 years. It’s been an iconic part of New York City’s music and arts scene for decades.

“This pandemic was something that was just not something that we could overcome,” Parul said.

More than 100,000 small businesses in the U.S. closed by April because of COVID-19, laying off thousands of employees.

A new stimulus bill is being negotiated in the Senate, but for Patel, it’s too late.

“One thing the government could have done to prevent somebody like us from closing, and other businesses, is a rent freeze. That would have been very, very powerful,” she said.

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In Harlem, the owner of Safari Restaurant, Mona Birjeeb, says revenue is down 90%.

Birjeeb says the only reason her restaurant is still open is because her landlord has not evicted her.

“I will stay open until my landlord comes to me and tells me, hey, either you have to pay me or you have to leave. But until then, I will do anything I can to stay. This is my dream, this is my life and this is my community,” she said.

Forty-one percent of Black business owners shuttered during the pandemic, the most of any group, and more than a third of immigrant business owners closed, too.

Birjeeb has applied for several loans but says she’s only received one for $5,000. That doesn’t even cover one month’s rent.

“Being Black and an immigrant is even harder. The resources is very limited. So it’s a real struggle, just not being just a small business and being Black. On top of that, you are immigrant, and you are a woman on top of that. So it’s not easy,” Birjeeb said.


The iconic Sylvia’s is one of Harlem’s largest minority employers.

Dining at the neighborhood institution is a rite of passage for celebrities and presidents.

To date, owner Tre’ness Woods-Black says only 30 of their 117 employees are back on the job.

“When the nation bleeds, Harlem hemorrhages,” Woods-Black said. “Everything impacts us. So if we’re in a community that has a large number of unemployed, then where’s the spending coming from?”

Pre-pandemic, half of Americans in the U.S. private sector were employed by small businesses. Since then, the hospitality industry has taken the brunt of the economic pain.

“I don’t know what’s in the stimulus package, but if it doesn’t include a specific amount, large amount for the restaurant industry, then shame on America,” Woods-Black said.


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