But some restaurateurs say the mayor has already lost the opportunity to help them.
“The industry is past the point of redemption. We’ve been closed for 240 days for indoor dining,” said Jeffrey Bank, chief executive of the Alicart Restaurant Group. “The only reason restaurants are not all out of business is because there’s an eviction moratorium.”
Bank said that instead of offering small-scale solutions for ailing restaurants, the mayor should be working in tandem with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lobby Washington to pass the $125 billion Restaurants Act recovery bill.
“There’s a $1.9 trillion package sitting out there. The mayor and the governor should be begging the government to pass the Restaurant Act in it,” Bank said. “Why are they not proclaiming to [Sen. Chuck] Schumer the need to help our industry?”
The mayor does have a set of concrete plans to help small businesses including restaurants, as he outlined in his State of the City address. First among them is a proposed small-business recovery tax credit, which is a $50 million rent assistance program. The measure aims to help up to 17,000 businesses concentrated in the arts and hospitality sectors.
Under the plan, any business in those sectors with gross annual revenue less than $1 million would be eligible for a tax credit equal to 6% of the 2021 rent, with a maximum credit of $10,000 and eligibility to the program hinging on a workforce retention level.
“Any type of rental assistance is a good thing,” said Randy Peers, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “But quite frankly we’ll need much more support than that.”
The program is unlikely to make a difference in the part of New York with the highest concentration of arts and hospitality businesses—and high rents: Midtown Manhattan.
“It won’t go very far,” Byrnes said. “At least not in Manhattan. In the other four boroughs it could. Maybe in Upper Manhattan, but not when it comes to Midtown and Lower Manhattan.”
Perhaps the main problem with de Blasio’s small-business recovery programs is that the city lacks the money to make a significant difference.
“The city’s resources are extremely limited because of pandemic costs—which is nobody’s fault,” Byrnes said. “But the city’s coffers aren’t exactly bursting at the seams.”
De Blasio noted that the recovery tax credit program would require state authority.
Then there is the mayor’s use of small-business recovery loans. The city plans to provide low-interest loans of up $10,000 to more than 2,000 small businesses. The money would come from a $100 million fund the city leveraged from outside lenders.
“Small businesses need grants, not loans,” Peers said. “They just don’t want to take on any more debt.”
Even the amount of businesses that could be helped under the proposal drew criticism.
“Anything is positive, but 2,000 businesses are a drop in the bucket,” Byrnes said. “These things are great, but they won’t go very far.”