Since March an estimated 2,800-plus city businesses have been forced to close permanently. According to business listing and review site Yelp that's more than any other large American city.
While the city marches on in the road to recovery, the devastating impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt by thousands of businesses and their employees. In the Flatiron District, one partnership is getting behind restaurants in the neighborhood as they try to overcome unprecedented challenges.
Before the pandemic, data from the the Federal Reserve show some 315,000 workers were employed in the city's hospitality, food services and beverage industry. That number cratered to about 90,000 at the depths of the pandemic before reviving slightly.
Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, reveals there are still about 200,000 unemployed industry workers. He warns the consequences of that are dire.
"I say to Governor Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio, these small businesses need a plan," said Rigie. "Do they stop exhausting their personal savings? Throw their keys back to the landlord?"
Traditional restaurant owners in the Flatiron like Ken Halberg, managing partner at Harding's, agree, knowing full well they can't compete with the big names.
"You don't get higher end food delivered and there's so much competition in the quick service market, that you just can't compete against those big corporations like Shake Shack," Halberg said. "You're not going to be able to compete on a dollar-to-dollar basis."
Of the roughly 27,000 restaurants and bars in the city, only about 10,000 are currently certified for outdoor dining. According to the Alliance, more than 80 percent of them weren't able to pay full rent in July.
To help revive eateries in the neighborhood, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership launched the 'ALLINFLATIRON' campaign, featuring in-person and online discounts for nearly three dozen restaurants in Flatiron and Nomad. The initiative helps a fraction of the more than 230 restaurants in the area. The partnership's executive director says every single one of them is desperately trying to stay afloat.
Executive Director of the Flatiron Partnership James Mettham says "really what I'm hearing is that how can they help them tread water and break even - that is the goal - so at the very least they have a fighting chance."
Halberg, who has been with Harding's since 2012 says the program is a much needed life-line for now, but desperately hopes there's something to celebrate down the road.
"Smaller restaurants like myself it's their livelihood, it's how I feed my family and how my staff feeds their families and so its a much more personal relationship," Halberg said. "We all know each other’s kids so it makes it even tougher. So you wait till the last minute until all hope is gone. So we are there until the very end we are riding on that cliff right to the very end."
According to National Restaurant Association, the industry has already lost $120 billion. The number is estimated to reach $240 billion by the end of the year. One in three restaurants in the United States may never open.
Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio today promised a clearer answer on when indoor dining can resume in the coming weeks, but for many restaurants in the Flatiron and beyond, time is running out.