New York City restaurateurs are asking for clarity on when they can offer food indoors and warn of serious economic consequences as the ban drags on for months during the coronavirus pandemic.
"The restaurant industry will die as we know it in this city. How can we not open at least a small percentage? Even 50%. If not, we will lose many restaurants in this city," Melba Wilson said on Wednesday at the " Power Lunch "from CNBC.
Wilson – the founder of Melba & # 39; s, which serves American comfort food in Harlem – recognized the health concerns of policy makers in a state that was once the epicenter of the United States. & # 39; Covid19 outbreak. However, she questioned the different guidelines for indoor eating in nearby parts of New York state such as Westchester County and Long Island.
She found that the percentage of positive coronavirus tests in New York City was around 1% for most of August. "We didn't just meet the metrics. We kept the metrics," said Wilson.
Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo on Aug. 19 called it "simply absurd" to compare New York City to other regions of the state, saying they differ in total population and density. And the coronavirus outbreak in Westchester County, for example, has never been as intense as it was in New York City, he claimed.
"These are two completely different environments, and because of these factors, are we more cautious in New York City? Of course we are. It would be negligent not to," said Cuomo, who has ultimate authority over when to eat New York City is allowed indoors.
New York City restaurants were allowed to dine al fresco in late June as the state went through its gradual economic reopening. Officials have also made it easier for restaurants to expand seating on sidewalks and in streets.
But plans to allow limited indoor dining were indefinitely suspended in early July, just days before returning. At the time, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pointed to rising Covid-19 cases in other parts of the US, which he said were associated with indoor restaurants and bars.
Cuomo said July 1 that it would be put on hold "until the facts change and it is wise to open up. At that point, it is not wise." Cuomo also advised last week that extended outdoor dining may be interrupted as the weather turns cold in the fall and winter.
Critics from de Blasio and Cuomo say there has not been enough transparency about the facts needed to reopen indoor restaurants, especially as autumn approaches and the outdoor service, which has been a financial lifeline, is also at risk could be.
"The last thing we want is a second wave of coronavirus infections," said Nate Adler, who founded Gertie, an all-day coffee shop in Brooklyn, at Power Lunch. "We have to be very careful because that is exactly what will put the nail in the coffin for many restaurants."
"Other than that, we have received no instruction and guidance or notification of the decisions that have been made so far by the mayor's office, the governor's office," he added. "What we would like to know is what is the plan?"
"Fight for Relief"
Adler alluded to comments de Blasio made earlier this week that apparently indicated it could be 2021 before indoor dining is allowed again. "If people miss the theater, if they miss the indoor dining, those things will be back. They will be back sometime next year," de Blasio said, according to the New York Post.
"If that is actually to be the case, we have to know and fight for relief," said Adler.
Wilson said the economic burden of not being able to provide indoor dining is felt not only by restaurant owners, but also extends to hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers who, collectively, form an industry that is "the fabric of this city." , she said.
In February, before the coronavirus pandemic revived daily life, around 324,000 people were working in bars and restaurants in New York City, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In July that number had fallen to just under 162,000, which corresponds to a decrease of around 50%.
New York City had an overall unemployment rate of 20% in July, compared to 4.3% a year earlier. This emerges from preliminary data from the Ministry of Labor released on Tuesday.
"The mayor had dinner with us here at Melba, so we know he cares. He knows how important that is. He knows that it is important for my staff to know how to pay their bills. How are we going to do it. " pay our bills? "Said Wilson.
"The rental bills are still coming in … we have 100% of the bills, fixed costs that have to be paid, while we get 20% of the income," she added.
De Blasio's office did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.
In an email to CNBC, Cuomo spokesman Will Burns noted that the governor had relaxed the rules for alcoholic beverages to be carried and delivered in support of restaurants and set up a $ 100 million fund for small business loans. He also stressed that New York State "will continue to follow science" when it comes to reopening the economy.
"Our gradual reopening is focused solely on protecting public health," he wrote.