Still-shuttered Brooklyn businesses seek help from health experts amid pandemic

Closed businesses
Businesses like yoga studios and music venues have not yet been told what to expect when it comes to reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic. One Brooklyn pol believes connecting all businesses with health experts will help.

As many still-closed businesses face an uncertain future amid the coronavirus pandemic, some institutions are pushing for help from health experts, saying the city’s ever-changing reopening guidelines have hamstrung their prospects for return. 

“I’d like the guidance,” said Erica Ginger, owner of Owl’s Head Yoga in Bay Ridge. “I definitely want to do whatever I have to do to open safely.”

Smaller exercise spaces like Ginger’s yoga studio have yet to be included in any phased reopening plans, and the government hasn’t given them clear signals about when they can open their doors once more — and owners fear they may be lumped in with facilities that vastly differ from theirs. 

“We shouldn’t be necessarily lumped in with gyms,” Ginger told Brooklyn Paper. “We aren’t dripping sweat on equipment, no communal locker rooms. We are a one-room studio with a personal bathroom.”

For some of Brooklyn’s biggest venues, moving forward with any type of live audience is especially tricky, said the executive director of On Stage at Kingsborough in Manhattan Beach, as they have to factor in the safety of patrons, crew, and the cast.

“We have so much to consider from the backstage crew that needs to be mingling and working closely with one another.. the artists having the space they need in the dressing rooms,” Anna Becker said. “And then of course the audience being able to come back safely through the lobby and the theatre.” 

To help establishments like Ginger’s and Becker’s move forward, their local senator, Andrew Gounardes, is calling on city officials to provide small business owners with access to a free health expert for reopening guidance.

“As you are well aware, our small businesses are in crisis,” wrote the senator in a July 14 letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, city Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Jonnel Doris and then-city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Oxiris Barbot. “It has been estimated that up to 40% of New York City’s small businesses will not survive the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The freshman senator referred to the city’s Open Restaurant Program, the overseer of the city’s outdoor dining initiative, which provides eateries with a virtual consultation with a health expert to ensure compliance with an approved checklist. Gounardes also believes closed businesses should be provided tailored in-person help if the city’s transmission rates remain low. 

“I am specifically requesting that the city offer health experts to provide individualized assistance to all businesses, as every small business is unique,” the pol wrote. “These consultations could be done virtually, but if transmission rates remain low, masked, in-person visits from health experts would be extremely helpful as these small business owners determine how to re-open safely.”

Ginger believes such support might prevent unique businesses from reopening with one-size-fits-all guidelines that aren’t suitable for the establishment.

Becker added that a health consultant would help pick up on “hot spots” that she might have missed.

“No matter what I do, I will never be a health expert,” she said. “And I think if a health expert comes to us, they are going to see our venue in ways I would never imagine, they are going to find trouble spots I would have never considered.”

The Bay Ridge yoga studio owner said an individualized consultation from a health consultant could also lower small businesses’ risk of being fined down the road — citing area restaurant owners who claim they were ticketed for failing to keep up with changing outdoor dining guidelines

“I don’t want to be out of compliance so anything preventative is good.” Ginger said. “And not having to spend more money on things I don’t need to reopen.”

As of Aug. 11, Gounardes’ office had not yet heard back from the mayor, the Department of Small Business Services or the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

A City Hall spokesman told Brooklyn Paper the Mayor’s Office is reviewing the senator’s letter.

“We are reviewing the letter. Throughout the pandemic our Department of Small Business Services, in conjunction with the Health Department, have been constantly updating guidance and conducting outreach to small businesses across the City,” said Julia Arredondo. “We will continue to have these conversations with small businesses as we move forward.”