The Central Square Business Improvement District (BID) has released a District Impact Study, reporting on the effects of COVID-19 on small businesses, using a survey to which 51 out of 100 business representatives in the Central Square BID responded.
The 70-page report catalogues reactions from business owners to the novel coronavirus, and lists their respective number of years in Central Square, number of hourly employees, and the perceived nature of impact. It separates the businesses into four categories: restaurants, arts & culture, retail, and non-profit.
The report begins with a letter from Central Square BID executive director Michael Monestime addressed to City and state officials: “I write with extreme urgency on behalf of the Central Square Business Improvement District, our city, state, and country at-large. The effects of COVID-19 are wreaking havoc on our local economy. Our businesses owners, arts organizations, and nonprofit directors are being asked to make public safety judgement calls, putting themselves, their staff, and future at risk. … As the Executive Director of the BID, resident of Cambridge, husband, and father, I implore you to act now.”
Only two respondents answered that they have not felt the effects of COVID-19. When asked if their business could survive the duration of the state of the emergency, assuming it goes until May, 60 percent of business owners responded no.
“Small businesses like ours with thin margins and little to no access to cash reserves will surely die,” Jeffrey Yu, owner of specialty drink and bubble tea store Abide, said in the report.
“It’s not a snowstorm, it’s not some event that can be “stopped,” we don’t know when it will be over,” echoed Saloniki Greek owner Jonathan Mendez. “It’s paralyzing.”
The various natures of impact include drops in sales, staffing issues, reduced hours, closures, layoffs, event cancelations, and decline in philanthropic giving, among others.
In response to questions from Scout Cambridge, Monestime prepared a written statement, saying, “The word on the street in Central Square is devastating. Right now, there are mass layoffs of wage workers; businesses will soon be defaulting on loan and rent obligations; many may never open again.”
And it’s not just the business owners who are scared for their future. About 94 percent of the estimated 3,000-person workforce in the Central Square BID are hourly workers, according to the report. When Gov. Charlie Baker announced that dining in bars and restaurants would be forbidden until April 6, limiting food service to delivery and takeout, service workers immediately became a part of the collateral damage.
“My staff need a streamlined way to get money fast from the state… A delay is not acceptable when they have rent to pay,” said Steve Darwin, owner of Darwin’s Ltd.
The report does not criticize Gov. Baker’s policy; rather, it is a plea to the City and state to take extra steps to ensure that local businesses and their employees receive enough financial support to weather the amount of social distancing necessary to control the virus.
It ends with a list of emergency relief recommendations, number one being a call for the immediate closure of non-essential businesses. Other suggestions include: offering mortgage relief for property owners who can’t make payments either through a city-backed guarantee or bond; instituting anti-eviction protections, commercial and residential; establishing centralized food delivery for seniors with local partners in the hospitality industry; availing more relief funds and resources to focus on protecting our most vulnerable neighbors; and establishing emergency fund for employees affected by closures.
“The truth is we need a bailout for Main Street at the scale of the bailout of Wall Street, directed specifically at small businesses, and we cannot wait for the federal government to get going,” Monestime says. “The majority of restaurants, retail stores, and arts organizations that make up the cultural fabric of our cities and squares will not survive this crisis without a massive infusion of cash.”
This article has been updated to include a statement from Michael Monestime.
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