‘We Have To Put Food On The Table’: Brooklyn Business Owner Calls On Leaders To Allow Reopening

Screenshot/Twitter/ Tova Herskovitz

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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A New York small business owner is pleading with state leaders, including Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to listen to people like her whose livelihoods have been abruptly and indefinitely paused because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Simcha Minkowitz, a Brooklyn resident and owner of Amor Fine Jewelry, told the Daily Caller that local businesses are suffering with little recourse during Cuomo’s shutdown of “nonessential” businesses.

Her business, which sells jewelry for special occasions like weddings and other milestones, has been closed for almost three months, she said. Minkowitz was happy to close down her business initially out of concern for others, but as time went on and nonessential businesses were ordered to remain closed, she has grown frustrated with the unfair and “hypocritical” treatment small businesses have faced. 

All workers in nonessential businesses across New York State were ordered to stay home beginning March 22 in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. Jewelry stores were among the types of businesses that were required to close. (RELATED: ‘This Is My Dream’: Michigan Music Store Owner Weeps, Blames Gov. Whitmer For Putting Him Out Of Business)

“We all did it happily because that’s what you do for one another,” she said. “But it came to a point where right now it’s hard for me to look around, to pass a 7/11 where you can go in and get a slurpee and toilet paper. I see so many people in Target [shopping for nonessential items.]”

“I have a jewelry store so a lot of people are saying it’s not essential. Well, it’s essential to me, because I have to support my family and we gave our hard earned money to this store. It’s like Marie Antoinette, let them eat cake. You don’t understand people having to work to put bread and food on their table.”

Minkowitz recorded a short video of herself expressing the struggles she and other business owners who were forced to close are now facing, which has since gone viral after she shared it in a group chat with other retail business owners.

“I put the video on there and it went crazy. This resonated with the heart of America. I don’t think it’s being reported, and I don’t think the stories are being told,” she added.

“It’s sad because the big chain stores are raking in millions. The hypocrisy makes no sense. The little guys are getting hurt and the big guys are reaping the rewards.”

She also highlighted the economic consequences of the shutdowns that many Americans will have trouble rebounding from, and that may result in an exacerbated mental health crisis due to mass unemployment.

Nearly three million people filed unemployment claims during the week of May 4, bringing total unemployment claims to 36 million in a two-month tally, the New York Times reported Thursday. Small businesses across the country that are facing economic ruin are able to seek some relief from initiatives like the CARES Act, which contains $376 billion in relief for workers and small businesses. 

For her jewelry store, Minkowitz was grateful for the Paycheck Protection (PPP) loan she received, but she said she’d rather be working “every day and honestly.”

But for many, government funding isn’t a large enough lifeline to carry small businesses through prolonged periods of no revenue. The challenges can feel insurmountable — Minkowitz said she recently spoke to friends who were close to someone who died from suicide after his business closed.

The soaring unemployment rate caused by the pandemic combined with isolating at home creates the “perfect storm” for an increased risk of suicide, experts said according to CNBC

“We’re going to go bankrupt, and there’s going to be people committing suicide,” she said. “Our country already has a terrible mental health crisis.”

Minkowitz has been trying to keep her business afloat by selling jewelry online and even doing FaceTime appointments.

“We’ve been doing whatever we can to keep our businesses afloat. But it’s maybe one sale a day, maybe not even that. This week I haven’t had any sales.”

She’s hoping that her voice and the voices of other small business owners will be heard by leaders before it’s too late for many to salvage their livelihoods. She’s happy to follow the social distancing and sanitation guidelines to keep her customers safe while shopping, she added, but many small businesses haven’t been given the same options as big businesses. 

“My parents didn’t have money growing up. They worked really hard for everything I’ve ever had, so I’m so grateful for everything that I have now,” she continued.

“So I know the challenges that entrepreneurs go through. There’s nobody there for them. They give sweat and blood, and they’re the life of America.”