STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — To help minority business owners still suffering from the pandemic and operating in a challenging economy, the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce recently brought New York City’s Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) to At the negotiating table, nonprofits for financial inclusion were invited to hear the concerns of several local entrepreneurs.
“Small business owners are in a bind,” North Shore restaurateur Edward Gomez told the panel, detailing the difficulties he faced running his restaurant Da Noi. “It’s my life’s job, a labor of love, and it’s something I’ve been doing for 23 years. I used to employ over 100 people and run eight restaurants. Now I have three agencies and it feels like we’re working hard Get over it. Gotta give something.”
Faced with higher costs, supply chain issues and lower sales due to inflation, which has cut customer spending, Gomez isn’t the only concern.
“The prices for everything are absolutely astronomical,” adds Deya Felici, owner of Vinum, Richmond, Don Cheech and Belvedere Club. “The cost of food has doubled and, in some cases, tripled, and the prices of other things we use every day, like gloves and paper towels, have gone sky-high. We have to keep prices low or we don’t get customers, but it’s impossible to eat only those costs. Small Business Administration [Small Business Administration] Loans are fine, but now is the time to start paying them back. We can’t delay any longer. “
Bobby Digi, co-owner of O’Henry’s Publick House on Minthorne Street, agreed.
“Having this conversation creates a lot of frustration,” he said. “We’ve applied for all the programs — every grant and loan under the sun — and we haven’t gotten one. We’re not even sure if we’re going to open in December, that’s how it is. And the ones that were supposed to help Institutions are completely out of touch with the people they are trying to serve.”
Hosted by LISC NY, the Entrepreneurship Forum is the third stop on the organization’s “Minority Small Business Listening Tour,” a program designed to help elevate current challenges facing minority business owners across the five boroughs. About 10 Staten Island business owners came together to plead for more support from economic development officials and state and city lawmakers.
“We tried to apply for the PPP and were denied because we were too young,” said Michelle Chen, owner of Lil M Bubble Tea House in Castleton Corners, as she told her story of the failure of the Paycheck Protection Program with the Small Business Administration. “I had to use my life savings. Raising money for a business is hard; there are a lot of small businesses that need help.”
Other black and brown business owners called for immediate, targeted action during the event to stabilize and support the Staten Island business community, describing issues such as employee retention, rent increases, public safety and more.
“Our Bay Street has always been plagued by crime, but after the pandemic, it seems to have gotten out of hand,” noted Vickiana Cappellan, owner of Kiara Beauty Salon, pointing to recent break-ins and drug operations right in front of her shop. “This neighborhood has become so dangerous, I’ve considered breaking the lease and leaving. We’re dealing with as many business owners as we can right now, but that’s probably the worst part.”
Staten Island Chamber of Commerce President Linda Baran offers advice on these difficulties, while LISC NY Senior Executive Director Valerie White asks business owners a series of questions to better gauge the Staten Island business climate the current temperature.
“We decided to start this tour because we wanted to hear about your challenges and successes,” White said. “We know it’s tough and we want to make sure you’re on a platform of economic equality.”
Baran added, “Having worked with LISC NY on many projects supporting small businesses over the years, we know firsthand their commitment to helping minority-owned businesses survive and thrive. We are delighted to be reunited with LISC NY on this listening tour. They collaborated to make the voices of the Staten Island minority business community heard and to address their concerns.”
LISC NY will host similar events in Queens and Manhattan, working with economic development officials, elected leaders and local businesses to ensure the voices of New York’s minority business community are heard and that their businesses remain at the heart of the fight for economic recovery.
“Our small business owners are under tremendous pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting government mandate, and we must work at the city and state level to ensure sustainable solutions are available for them,” the senator said . Andrew J. Lanza (R-Staten Island) in a statement. “Thank you to LISC NY and the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce for bringing together these powerful members of our community and providing them with a platform to share their experiences with elected officials. I will continue to support these small business owners and amplify their voices in order to They are able to continue to provide goods and services and have representation in our communities.”
Assemblywoman Kamillah M. Hanks (D-North Shore) said, “Staten Island is home to a staggering number of minority and female-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs whose support, knowledge, and resources to succeed is critical, especially This comes at a time when many are still grappling with the impact of the pandemic. The listening tour and partnering with the SI Chamber of Commerce is a great way to understand the needs of our small business owners.”