By Beckie Strum
Anxiety and trepidation have replaced full-throated excitement among New York City’s businesses preparing to reopen on Monday.
“There was a sense of relief and anticipation about getting back to business,” said Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. “But the events of the last five-to-seven days have tempered that to anxiety and fear, whether the damage from looting was in Manhattan and the Bronx, or across the country.”
Around 200,000 to 400,000 nonessential employees are expected to return to work next week in New York City for the first time in nearly three months, after weathering the worst Covid-19 outbreak in the country. Construction and manufacturing, whole trade, and retailers that can offer curbside pick up will be allowed to operate as part of the first of four phases of reopening as mandated by the state. But many of these businesses, which were raring to go, are now feeling a more anxious optimism after looters ransacked businesses primarily in the Bronx and Manhattan, taking advantage of peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd.
“Overall, there’s an excitement,” said Lisa Sorin, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, whose team has called several hundred businesses in the borough to help prepare them for reopening on Monday. Still, she said, “there is this level of fear.”
Communities in the Bronx have come together to help clean up in the aftermath of looting, which has largely abated since the beginning of the week. But there were some businesses poised to reopen next week that now can’t because of the looting, including the Bronx Optical Center, where most of the glasses inventory, as well as computers from its office, were stolen, Ms. Sorin said.
That also goes for a number of pharmacies and pawnshops that are still in the process of rebuilding their broken facades.
Many of the city’s largest retailers will also put their reopenings on hold or limit the number of stores participating as they work out how to bring back staff and customers safely. That reportedly includes fashion and makeup brands like Coach, Macy’s /zigman2/quotes/201854387/composite M +4.55% and Ulta Beauty /zigman2/quotes/210513442/composite ULTA -0.11% . The reopening comes just days after many major retailers and department stores in Midtown Manhattan boarded up windows and increased security following widespread looting in the borough’s commercial centers, such as Fifth Avenue.
The city’s business community is nevertheless ready for the economic reopening to begin, including hair and nail salons that still have to wait at least a couple more weeks for Phase 2. Sorin said she’s had to break the news to a handful of salons that had started taking appointments for next week.
“The excitement is so big,” Sorin said.
For those that can reopen, employees and consumers will be returning to a vastly altered experience, where masks are required virtually everywhere, store merchandise spills out on the sidewalks, and where many employees, from bus drivers and sales associates, sit behind sheets of protective plastic.
The city’s Small Business Services division will be distributing hundreds of thousands of masks to small businesses via chambers of commerce and other intermediaries over the weekend, Grech said, adding that hygiene will now be a chief concern for customers.
“When I bring my family into a store in Queens, I’m going to be looking to see if it’s safe and clean from a public-health perspective,” he said, adding that store owners can build trust by strictly enforcing masks and social distancing. “Make sure employees don’t skirt the rules.”
In light of that, the city is looking at ways to help reduce crowding inside retailers, especially restaurants that can host outdoor dining in the second phase of reopening, expected in July, by making more public space available to them outside.
On Thursday, city Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the City Council that her agency was “ready to open our streets and sidewalks to help our beloved restaurant industry recover.”