BENSONHURST — The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt across New York City’s commercial corridors, many of which have become lined with empty storefronts that were once strongholds for mom-and-pop businesses.
But there are entrepreneurs bucking the trend.
On Bensonhurst’s 86th Street, at least three new businesses have opened up on a two-block stretch located between 19th and 21st avenues.
One of the newcomers, Food Universe Marketplace, at 1982-84 86th St., opened in January and has been doing brisk business, according to Ennis Said, who owns the supermarket with his brother, Rowhie. The supermarket is tucked underneath the D train’s elevated tracks, on the corner of 86th Street and 20th Avenue. The spot was formerly occupied by P.C. Richard & Son.
The Said Brothers had no trepidation at all about opening their supermarket amid the ongoing pandemic. “People always need food. If there’s any kind of business that could do well now, it’s a food business,” Ennis said.
The brothers had worked in other supermarkets and grocery stores before deciding to venture out on their own. “We wanted to do it, so we did it,” Ennis said as he stood near a side door and supervised a delivery.
Food Universe Marketplace currently employs 15 workers. Depending on how things go over the next few months, additional workers may be hired.
Ennis Said’s advice to other would-be entrepreneurs is simple. “Just go for it. And don’t be afraid,” he said.
Other new stores on 86th Street include Something Sweet, an ice cream shop at 1976 86th St., and Moge Tee, an Asian tea shop at 2013 86th St.
The opening of the new stores comes at a time when the economic news is otherwise grim.
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce conducted an end-of-year survey of the borough’s small businesses to assess the damage done by COVID-19. The takeaway: one in five small businesses on shopping corridors have closed.
Here are the survey’s other findings:
- 80 percent of businesses saw a decline in revenue between 2019 and 2020.
- 47 percent of the businesses that reported lost revenue indicated the decline was more than half of their annual revenue.
- 85 percent of businesses reduced staff.
- 33 percent owe back rent.
“The end-of-year survey results confirm what we had been tracking all along in 2020. Small business revenue is in free fall,” Randy Peers, chamber president and CEO, said in a statement. “We need to urgently re-open more of our economy and access much more federal support if our small businesses are to survive in 2021.”
Generally speaking, a small business employs fewer than 250 people, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Not all business closings can be blamed on COVID-19, said Bill Guarinello, chairman of Brooklyn Community Board 11 (Bensonhurst-Bath Beach).
Guarinello said the closure of businesses in the Board 11 area is not necessarily due to the pandemic but to a turnover in the neighborhood that has been going on for the past few years.
“I’m going to say it’s the usual turnover. We really haven’t seen the blight from the pandemic where people massively went out of business. Take 18th Avenue. That’s been making a metamorphosis for years,” he said.
18th Avenue is one of the more prominent commercial thoroughfares in Board 11, along with 86th Street and Bay Parkway.
Bensonhurst, which Italian-Americans largely populated for generations, has become predominantly Asian in recent years, Guarinello said. As the Italian-Americans moved out, store owners whose businesses catered to that community closed up shop because the clientele was gone, he said.
Newcomers are opening up in those storefronts, but slowly, Guarinello said.
“It’s a progression that has been going on for quite some time. That’s not a function of the pandemic. It’s a function of the change in demographics of this neighborhood,” he said. “The new Census is probably going to show that our community is 60 percent Asian.”
As Asians settle in, they start to open new stores, he added.
There are bright spots in the economic landscape, according to Guarinello.
“We did get some improvement in terms of new business,” he said. “Target opened at Ceasar’s Bay (shopping mall). There’s a Chipotle that’s going to open on 86th. So you know there is some new activity going on.”