The surge in COVID-19 cases has taken its toll on Brooklyn’s small business community, with around 20% of local businesses having had to shut their doors for a period of time during the holiday season and 59% having had employees call out sick over the past three weeks, a new survey finds.
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce surveyed 109 small businesses in the borough between Dec. 23 and Dec. 28 to find out the effects of the current wave of COVID-19 in the city, which has been put down to the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Business owners reported a 77% reduction in holiday sales and a 46% decline in indoor activities including dining and shopping. That led to 77% of businesses reporting a drop in holiday revenue, while 13% said their revenue had increased.
In the survey, one bar and tavern owner in East Williamsburg said that despite it being the business's first December with indoor dining, “sales plummeted nearly 60% in rolling 7-day average.”
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers said Omicron had taken everyone by surprise, and the toll on small businesses during the holiday season had been staggering.
"Just when many of our small businesses were hoping to make up some ground for losses incurred throughout the pandemic, they now face another uncertain winter as we head into 2022,” he said.
It wasn’t just the challenges posed by COVID-19 closures and fear that business owners and staff were facing, with 31% of respondents saying they had experienced customer backlash from enforcing mask or vaccination requirements. And, they added, over the holiday period 73% had received customer complaints.
Despite that, 94% expressed support for the state’s mask mandate and 77% said they required masks in store, while 59% check vaccination status, according to the survey.
The owner of a health and wellness center in Park Slope said that the biggest struggle they faced right now was that they had a staff member who had requested religious exemption from the vaccine “and I fear if clients ask the staff person there may be backlash about someone having an exemption.”
For one respondent, who owns food and beverage businesses in East New York and Bed-Stuy, having the staff stressed by having to enforce the mask rule was one of the big challenges the business was facing.
The businesses that took part in the survey reported that over 90% of staff were vaccinated and more than 50% were tested regularly. Despite this, 53% of owners and staff tested positive for COVID-19 in the lead up to the holidays the survey found.
Lorraine Lowe, director of membership at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s surveys had been an important information lifeline for Brooklyn's small business community.
"Throughout the pandemic, we have polled our businesses continually so that we can tell the story of how COVID has continued to impact our local economy."