Saturday, September 25, 2021

Businesses staging a post-Covid comeback

Gabriel Burgos-Nieves, general manager of The Black Sheep

By Angelea Preston and Jillian Kasmore

            Joe Tyson rushed to open the door to his barbershop, Tyson Cuts, with his young daughter in tow. He was running late for his first appointment of the day, a 9-year-old boy getting his annual back-to-school haircut. 

            “Hey Eric,” said Tyson as Eric plopped down in the chair. Tyson asked what kind of cut he wants, and after Eric told him the style he wanted, Tyson began cutting while speaking on how the pandemic affected his business. 

            “It was a slow climb to get back to normal, after the five months of being shut down,” Tyson said.

            Tyson opened his barber shop on 259 Carolina St. in June 2019.  Within a year, his business like many others across the state would be shut down multiple times due to the pandemic. 

            Uncertainty, fear, and doubt were heightened when COVID-19 hit in March 2020. Some small businesses on the West Side were grossly affected financially, while others benefitted from grants given by the government. 

            Ever-changing restrictions, the race to get as many people vaccinated as possible, and variants of the coronavirus have made an already difficult situation more perplexing. As businesses are still trying to navigate this new normal that doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

            For GabrielBurgos-Nieves, general manager of The Black Sheep Restaurant & Bar, 367 Connecticut St., food prices continue to go up due to a decrease in food availability. 

            “I don’t know the figures for sure but when we look at our local farms that we get our pigs from, we look at our chicken farms, we’re definitely seeing a shortage, and because of that we’re seeing a price increase,” Burgos-Nieves said.

            However, food shortages and price increases aren’t the only things the pandemic has changed. New York City became the first U.S city that required proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining. That’s something that has piqued the interest of Burgos-Nieves, and the owners of The Black Sheep. 

            “Right now, we’re kind of leaning towards requiring vaccination status,” Burgos-Nieves said.

            With the setbacks, there have been bright spots that have helped ease the storm. 

            In response to the pandemic, New York State administered an $800 small business recovery grant program.  According to Gov. KathyHochul’s office, more than $48 million has been given to 2,380 small businesses in the state.

            Tommy Mims, owner of Off The Beaten Path Tattoo Shop, 205 Grant St.,  worked in another shop as a private contractor for 10 years. He was then able to open his own shop during the pandemic. 

         “It was probably the best thing that could have happened for my business financially because all the money that was able to be given to business owners through the government helped me tremendously,” Mims said.

       For Joe Petri, owner of Gather and Game,  205 Grant St.,  said gaming sales have stayed steady. 

       “It’s a hobby people can do at home with family or roommates.  Even when quarantining has in some ways grown in popularity,” Petri said. 

Hiring not a problem for some businesses

    Small businesses on the West Side might be seeing hiring getting easier now that the $300 unemployment bonus has expired, one being the Lexington Co-Op, 807 Elmwood Ave.

            The co-op recently put hiring signs in its  windows and is having no problem getting applicants.  When the unemployment bonus was offered last year some of its employees took advantage of the extra cash and decided to leave their job. As of Sept. 5, the bonus was terminated and as a result Human Resource Denise Terrell has been scheduling multiple interviews a day.

            Terrell said the store is following the guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “to a tee,” Terrell said.   

            This means the store is not requiring the vaccine but is recommending it. All workers and customers must be always wearing a mask.  Social distancing is still encouraged, and the stickers are put in place at the checkout lines to make sure people are 6 feet apart.

            The co-op usually has no problem with finding employees. Terrell says this is due to how well the store treats its employees. The store offers an hourly wage of $17, health insurance, paid time off, staff discount and 401(K) Retirement Plans.

             “We look for candidates that have a sparkle,” Terell said. By Evan DiPasquale and Danielle Stieger