PATERSON, NJ – The city is hoping to give local business owners a boost following extended closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

As part of the state’s reopening Monday of retail stores for in-person shopping, the Downtown Paterson Special Improvement District began hosting sidewalk sales on a daily basis to help businesses break even while following social distancing mandates.

“Every year, we normally obtain permits for businesses downtown to hold sidewalk sales during the summer months on weekends,” said Orlando Cruz, district manager of the Downtown Paterson Special Improvement District, said. “This year, we had to think outside the box.”

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During sidewalk sale season, Cruz said local shops typically see a 15 percent increase in business and he hopes allowing sidewalk sales every day will recoup some revenue lost since mid-March when Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the closure of most walk-in stores and non-essential retailers as part of New Jersey’s efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

On Wednesday afternoon – two days after the start of the district’s sidewalk sale initiative – Cruz said “it’s refreshing” to see downtown Paterson slowly come back to life.  He anticipates even more activity next week, when hair and nail salons are permitted to reopen.

“The businesses I have spoken with so far seem extremely excited,” he said.

With the exception of a few dollar stores, supermarkets and a handful of restaurants offering takeout and delivery, Cruz said “a large majority of our downtown had to close down.”

The option of offering curbside pick-up service to shoppers helped a little, Cruz said. Last month, Murphy gave the greenlight for retailers to reopen May 18 for curbside pick-up only.

Cruz said, “In all honesty, I don’t think our downtown could survive another shut down. Over the last three months or so, non-essential businesses took a significant hit. I don’t think non-essential businesses could survive a second wave of this unless the powers-that-be come up with a creative way to let them stay open.”

In advance of the June 15 statewide reopening of retail, Cruz pitched his idea for daily sidewalk sales to Mayor Andre Sayegh, who thought it was a “great way to help local businesses.” After that, Cruz went about the process of obtaining permits from the city.

Not every business has reopened, though. Places such as gyms and movie theaters remain shuttered, with no timeline from the state on when they can expect to open their doors.

“A lot of stores haven’t started sidewalk sales yet because of a lack of personnel,” said Cruz, explaining that some workers plan on remaining on unemployment through July, which is when the extra $600 unemployment benefit ends. “They are making more on unemployment than they would working.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, small businesses across New Jersey have faced numerous challenges, from mandated closures to obtaining federal relief loans to competing for unemployment benefits. 

As part of the city’s ongoing outreach to the business community, Sayegh and Paterson’s Economic Development Director Michael Powell plan to host a roundtable discussion Wednesday at 7 p.m. for small business owners on how to reopen and remain stable.

Register through Eventbrite by clicking here to get meeting login information.

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