Vaccine mandates for businesses gets underway in Brooklyn

A man shows proof of vaccination to access a gym in Manhattan on the first day of the mayor’s new mandate.
Photo by Dean Moses

Rules requiring proof of vaccination are now in effect across the city following a recent mayoral mandate — and they’re being met with mixed feelings from Brooklyn business owners.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the new rules in early August, after it became apparent the rise in coronavirus cases brought on by the Delta variant wasn’t slowing anytime soon, and as scores of New Yorkers stood strong in opposing the shot.

“If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” the mayor said on Aug. 3. “It’s time.” 

The mandate requires patrons of indoor gyms and fitness centers, restaurants, and entertainment venues to show proof of vaccination, either through their CDC vaccination card, the state’s ‘Excelsior Pass’ or the city’s ‘Key to the City.’ 

The rule officially went into effect on Aug. 16, with the Department of Health authorized to start fining non-compliant businesses as of Sept. 13. To ensure enforcement, nearly 600 people have been hired by the city to check in on businesses and canvass them with information about the vaccine requirement. 

The mayor has cited rising vaccination rates as proof that the mandates will be effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. “I am absolutely certain this is going to motivate a lot of people to get vaccinated,” hizzoner said at a recent briefing. 

However, with businesses throughout the five boroughs already suffering extended closures, rent deferrals, and the loss of staff, some shopkeepers wonder if they can handle another potential loss of clientele resulting from the mandate’s enforcement.

Still, while some Brooklyn business owners have vocally opposed the mandate, others have expressed enthusiasm about the edict — which, for some, doesn’t change a thing.

Michael Carlin, co-owner of Slope Fitness on Seventh Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope, says he started requiring vaccination for members of his gym soon after the state’s mask mandate was lifted in the early summer. 

“I had always required members to show proof of vaccination so they can work out without a mask on,” Carlin said. “Although our politicians said you can go on the honor system…I never did that.” 

More frustrating to Carlin is the mandate’s selectiveness, he said, lamenting that gyms are subject to the regulation, but not other indoor businesses such as hair salons, or major corporations.

“What I’m not fine with is that Mayor de Blasio selected three industries,” he said. “Why not hair salons and nail salons? Why not supermarkets? Why not Target?”

Bay Ridge business owner Jumana Bishara believes the city can be doing more to streamline the verification process.

“It’s been difficult and unfortunate that we have to be the ones that are enforcing this rule,” she told Brooklyn Paper, adding that some sort of scanner might help businesses who are currently stuck verifying vaccination cards and excelsior passes on their own. “Having to ask somebody for the card then having to ask them for ID and verifying the information, it’s just tedious.”

On whether or not she feels the mandate will deter business, Bishara said, “I’m pro-vaccinations at this point so if the customers or the guests don’t know when they’re coming into an establishment that they need to have that, then I think it’s just intentionally giving us a hard time.”

So far, Carlin says his requirement has only cost him one customer — a doctor at Methodist Hospital who refused to take the vaccine.

Caleb McMahon, a co-owner of the bar Salem’s Hour in Prospect Lefferts Gardens says checking people’s vaccination status has been a breeze so far, and has made his staff and patrons feel safer dining and drinking inside. The owner of the Nostrand Avenue pub also instituted the rule before it was mandated, and says many patrons have thanked him for it.

“A vast majority of people are not only fine with it, but are grateful,” McMahon said. “They have reinforced that this makes them feel safer coming in, and that they wish everywhere was as vigilant.” 

Keeping COVID contained is essential if businesses want to avert another shutdown, he added. 

“Small businesses aren’t going to survive a general shutdown again,” he said. “We felt we needed to throw our support into the most safe decision.”

Bishara agreed.

“I understand the need to be vaccinated,” she said. “I would prefer to go out to a restaurant and show my vaccination card than have to ask people to show it to us, but it’s something that has to be done and we’re going to deal with it day by day.”

Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane