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NYC shop shows how coronavirus devastates independent businesses

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Lana Meli’s survivor challenge is the story of tens of thousands of business owners in New York, the region and the nation.

The proprietor of Lana’s Loft, a Rockaway Park dress shop, she thinks her small store might survive — but only under the right circumstances: That she receives effective federal help and can re-open soon.

“What is killing us is all the uncertainty,” she said. “I think what helps is that I heard President Trump say that this can’t go on for three months; that this could kill the economy.”

Meli, with one of the few stores providing women’s clothing and accessories on the Rockaway peninsula, closed some two weeks ago.

Before the escalation of the pandemic, Meli said Lana’s Loft was doing well. But early this month she was recording almost no business because people were “afraid to come out.”

Meli furloughed her mostly part-time workers, but kept a full-time worker on the payroll.

The shop’s survival, she noted, is important because “I am also in this for my personal income.”

Meli’s experiences are similar to many small business owners who are fighting to survive, according to a small business group.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), in a new survey, reports that 76 percent of small business owners surveyed nationwide have been hurt by the outbreak of the coronavirus. That is about 200 percent more over what the NFIB found a month ago.

“You can take it as a given that the 76 percent number is considerably higher here,” says Greg Biryla, New York state director for the NFIB.

“Of those businesses negatively impacted, 23 percent are experiencing supply-chain disruptions, 54 percent slower sales and 9 percent sick employees,” NFIB said.

Meli, who started her store in 2012 just before Hurricane Sandy hit, was out of business for about six months following the storm, so she is familiar with some of the ropes.

She goes in to her store each day, and is planning its potential path to survival. While she is taking big losses, vendors, she said, “have been very understanding,”

“If we could open up around Easter time, that would be really great,” she said. “We’re by the beach. We do a lot of summertime business.”

But a strong economic recovery is the key, she added. “What happens if people have no disposable income? They are going to pay rent, buy food and not dresses.”

Manor Delicatessen
Manor DelicatessenJ.C. Rice

Mark Gallagher, the owner of three small businesses in Queens employing 30 or so people, has temporarily closed his Manor Oktoberfest restaurants in Forest Hills and Glendale, but kept his Manor Delicatessen in Woodhaven operating. Gallagher believes lawmakers often don’t understand small business problems. He dismisses the idea that restaurants can survive on takeout. “That is not a sustainable model,” he said

What could the government do to help small businesses?

“It would be nice,” Gallagher said, “if they gave a zero-percentage loan to get us through, and then we could pay it back.”

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