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New York’s world-famous restaurant industry is facing death by a thousand bureaucratic cuts — but they’re not going down without a fight.
Hundreds of restaurant owners, workers and industry leaders held a rally in Times Square Tuesday morning to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent closure of indoor dining and demand a bailout that’ll save their livelihoods.
“Save our restaurants! Save our jobs!” the protesters bellowed from Father Duffy Square before leading a march across town to Cuomo’s Midtown East office where they briefly blocked traffic.
“The situation continues to get more and more dire, and the shutting down of indoor dining during the holidays, when New York City restaurants are providing the safety measures, is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Jeffrey Garcia, president of the Latino Restaurant Bar and Lounge Association of New York State, railed to the crowd.
“We need action immediately.”
The protest comes a day after Big Apple eateries were forced to suspend indoor dining even though the state’s own contact tracing data shows restaurants and bars account for a mere 1.43 percent of recent known COVID-19 exposures.
Cuomo has been quick to point to outdoor dining as a half-baked panacea for the flailing industry but with temps continuing to dip below freezing — and a monster snowstorm that’ll close al fresco dining Wednesday — restaurant owners say it’s not enough.
“We were so hopeful when indoor dining was allowed again to try to keep it afloat. But now that we’re unable to pay rent due to the shutdown, I’m afraid that I’m going to lose everything altogether,” said Sandra Jaques, the owner of Inwood’s Il Sole restaurant, who had to fire nearly two dozen employees amid the pandemic.
Jaques’s story mirrors a troubling trend seen in the majority of Big Apple eateries.
A report from the New York State Restaurant Association found two-thirds of restaurants said they are likely to close by the end of the year without a comprehensive relief package that’s specifically for eateries, the NYSRBLA said in a news release.
A survey by the NYC Hospitality Alliance found nearly 87% of businesses couldn’t pay their full rent in August and 88% had to stiff their landlords in October — even with outdoor dining in full swing and indoor dining at 25% capacity.
Andrew Rigie, the executive director of The Alliance, said at least 210,000 jobs were lost when restaurants were originally forced to shutter back in March and the gains the industry has made since will soon be erased with the closure of indoor dining.
“Thankfully, due to limited indoor dining, outdoor dining, we’ve hired back about 100,000 people. But guess what? There’s tons of people still out of work and with our new shutdown, those 100,000 jobs could be back on the chopping block,” Rigie said.
Susana Osorio, owner of the Mamasushi and Mamajuana Cafe franchises, said Cuomo’s grinch-like shutdown will make for a bleak holiday for her struggling workers.
“My employees don’t have a job, two weeks before Christmas,” Osorio said.
“It breaks my heart that all these families are not going to have money… to buy Christmas gifts for the kids. All the employees that I have have kids. And the only thing I’m asking Cuomo is please, if we’re going to stay closed, provide some funding for us. How am I going to handle all these pressures?”
The protestors demanded Cuomo offer a bailout for the struggling industry and also pointed to the federal Restaurants Act — a bill that would provide $120 billion to the industry — as the saving grace restaurants across the country need.
“We need to scream loud and clear that the federal government must pass the Restaurants Act,” said Tom Colicchio, the co-founder of the Gramercy Tavern and the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
“We don’t want a handout. We want a bridge that can keep us viable so we can actually start employing people again when things open up.”
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