NEWARK, NJ — The crushing economic toll of COVID-19 has been saving its worst for this winter, and as joblessness claims again increase steadily across the country, small business owners in Newark are making last-ditch efforts to stay open.
Many of them won’t make it out the other side. The city stands to lose about 25 to 30% of its small business without federal aid, mirroring what the state at large has already lost as a result of the pandemic, Catherine Wilson, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Newark, said.
The Newark United Way published a report on the findings of its Small Business Grant Program in November. It collected data that showed small businesses applying for its program brought in only about $50,000-75,000 a year after overhead costs and had little left for savings.
“We’re not talking about large revenue margins here,” WIlson said. “Because of the lack of operational reserves and because of the lower revenue margins, what we’re seeing is a lot of businesses are going to be facing, and some have already faced this, the fact that they can’t pay their bills.”
She added the length of time businesses have been open during the summer and the fall won’t be enough to sustain them through wintertime restrictions on their operations. Home-based childcare programs, retail and restaurants throughout the wards will be most impacted.
“We’re going to start to see over the next several months if our businesses have enough operating cash or assistance given the PPP loan, what the city has been able to put out in rounds one and two in support and the state level,” Wilson said. “If you did get any or all of those, you’re looking at a pretty dire situation.”
For Maryann Downar, owner of The Deep Inn, a historic bar in Newark’s Ironbound, the situation is already dire. After being denied a grant from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority — which she plans to appeal — and a rental assistance grant from the NJ Redevelopment Authority, she received a tax sale notice for her building, which her husband owns.
On Monday, Mayor Ras Baraka reneged on tax sales for local businesses, saying the notices were sent out by error.
Downar’s bar does not serve food and can only allow 12 people inside at a time in keeping with state and local coronavirus restrictions. She was depending on the grants to get her through to the spring and said aside from business expenses, she isn’t sure how her family will get through the holidays.
“My son just keeps telling me that it’s a sad story. Something’s got to give,” Downar said.
A spokesperson for the redevelopment authority said that even for businesses who do get approved for rental assistance of up to $30,000, many Essex County landlords have failed to sign the agreements, undermining what little assistance is available on the state and local level.
The spokesperson said the lack of landlord compliance is likely due to landlords wanting to force out tenants to sign new ones who can pay the full rent amount in the long-term.
“You’re just not going to get that in a pandemic,” the spokesperson said, adding that the NJRA is urging landlords to accept the terms of the grant.
So what might Newark look like after what economists and health experts are predicting will be the hardest months yet to come? According to Wilson, it will be a city in continued recovery.
“I think Newark may still be in this place of recovering and unfortunately some of those businesses may close and not come back,” she said. “I think also, I’m hopeful, once we do enter this recovery, businesses start to open, and we start to have new growth and new innovation and new entrepreneurship as well.”