This first week in January was supposed to be the week many New Yorkers returned to the office. But with the surge in COVID-19 cases, many of those returns have been pushed back, yet again.
It’s just one more blow to restaurants and small businesses who rely on those employees for the business.
Forlini’s Restaurant has been a staple in Lower Manhattan for decades.
“Our family’s been on Baxter Street since 1943 and in this area since 1956,” said owner Derek Forlini. “We’ve had Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays has been here, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel.”
While countless celebrities have enjoyed meals at Forlini’s, it’s most common diners come from the courthouses, just a few blocks away.
“The greatest feeling I got in this business was, after so many years of being in it, that judges, lawyers, DAs, everybody knows me by name and I’m strictly just the restaurant guy,” Forlini said.
At least, they used to.
During the pandemic, so many judges, lawyers, clerks and so forth have been working remotely.
Forlini says, without them, his typical lunch crowd, isn’t much of a crowd.
“We used to do a busy lunch, I’d say 130-150 people for lunch we used to do, with a full bar,” said Forlini. “Now if I’m doing 30 people I’m more than happy.”
Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams pushed for businesses — even those that can operate remotely — to get employees back into the office sooner, for the sake of their fellow New Yorkers.
“That accountant, I need him to go to the cleaners, I need him to go to Dunkin Donuts, I need him to go to the restaurant, I need him to bring in the business traveler,” Adams said.
Adams says another delayed return to the office could be devastating for small businesses.
“January, February, March, April, four months of not having this business patronized, not having the restaurant patronized,” said Adams.
Forlini isn’t holding his breath.
“We heard January 7 the DA should be coming back, which does affect our lunch, but only God knows, we’ve heard different dates before and it hasn’t gotten crazy yet,” Forlini said. “I understand their feelings about it, if they feel unsafe and they’re able to do their work at home, I totally get where they stand, but being in the restaurant business, I have to show up. There is no staying at home if I want to make a living.”
But he is staying optimistic.
“Thankful we survived all these years, we’ve gone through bad times, 9/11, we lived through some of the roughest times,” Forlini said.
And he says he’ll make it through this one, too.