April 29, 2021 Op-Ed By Julie Won
Prior to the pandemic, small businesses in Western Queens were already caught between a rock and hard place. Rising rents, predatory landlords, and displaced residents presented serious challenges to the businesses that have called Queens home for years or even decades.
Then, COVID-19 hit and the bottom fell out.
Ninety percent of restaurants failed to make rent for December 2020 and unemployment skyrocketed to an eye-popping 11 percent. Here in western Queens we have lost a number of beloved local establishments, like the Creek and the Cave, while other restaurants, like Donovan’s Pub, have been forced to ask for donations to keep their doors open.
This crisis has been especially devastating for immigrant owned businesses and workers.
Language barriers and onerous bureaucratic requirements have prevented many of our district’s most vulnerable businesses from accessing the relief they desperately need. It’s going to take more than business as usual to ensure that our COVID-19 recovery works for all New Yorkers.
I am frustrated that our city has had solutions to a number of these problems, yet our leaders failed to act for years.
The Small Business Jobs Survival Act would stabilize rents for small and local businesses, put small business owners on more equitable footing with landlords, and would guarantee businesses a 10-year minimum lease. Unfortunately, the SBJSA has been stuck in committee since 2013, as our City Council has bent over backwards for developers and commercial landlords while leaving local business owners to fend for themselves.
With so many local businesses on the verge of collapse, we cannot afford more of the same. Our campaign has not and will never accept a dime of big real estate money, and passing the SBJSA will be a day one priority for me as Councilmember.
We also must help our local businesses with the little things. I’m running for City Council in District 26 where just 30 percent of people speak English as their first language. These language barriers are often costly for immigrant owned businesses, as they struggle to apply for relief and comply with regulations that are often translated in only a handful of languages.
When my family and I came to this country when I was just 8 years old, I experienced firsthand the struggle of learning a new language in a strange land. We have an obligation to fight for the language justice that our hard-working immigrant neighbors deserve.
Many of my fellow immigrant women are street vendors and right now they work in a cutthroat market.
A street vendor license currently costs over $20,000, and while the women running mango carts and tamale trucks are a cultural touchstone of our city, most licenses are owned by men.
The city must move more quickly to greatly increase the number of street vending permits and ensure those permits are affordable so that vendors have a chance to make a better life.
We also need to expand, make permanent, and invest in our Open Streets and Open Storefronts. These programs have been sparse bright spots of this pandemic and we all benefit when local businesses are able to use our city streets to their fullest potential.
There is no question that COVID-19 has changed our city. While we must fight for a just and robust economic recovery, we also need to prepare for the changes and challenges that lie ahead. We need to make technical training and vocational programs more affordable, and as your Councilmember, I would fight to make CUNY and city community college tuition free. We must ensure that our workforce is as adaptable as it is resilient, and I will work to equip New Yorkers of all ages with the tools for tomorrow.
This city’s economic recovery is personal for me. I am one of the only tenants in this race as well as one of the only candidates still working a job.
When my family came to the United States, small businesses were the only ones to give my parents a shot.
Mom and pop shops put food on our table and helped put my brother and me through college. New York’s small businesses—our food trucks, our nail salons, our pharmacies, our restaurants, and so much more—are an integral part of our city’s culture.
We must ensure that they have a chance to thrive. Throughout my career I’ve helped countless businesses adapt to changing times and I look forward to fighting like hell to make sure our COVID-19 recovery works for all New Yorkers.