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1 In 3 Brooklyn Businesses Struggled To Pay Rent In 2021

The Brooklyn Bridge

Two years after the coronavirus pandemic first tore through New York City, more than half of Brooklyn’s small businesses are still feeling its financial impacts, according to a new report from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

Almost three-quarters of Brooklyn businesses said that their sales were lower last year than 2019 according to the chamber, which surveyed 185 businesses in neighborhoods across the borough.

A third of the businesses said they struggled to pay rent last year. With the end of the commercial eviction moratorium, the Chamber of Commerce said that many of these businesses are now in danger of closing permanently.

Nearly 70% of businesses said they had fewer customers than in 2019, and a quarter had closed temporarily at some point during the past two years due to staffing shortages. Just over 40% of businesses said their employee headcounts were still lower than they had been prior to the pandemic. 

“What our end of the year survey definitively shows is that business owners are continuously facing ongoing challenges,” Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Randy Peers said in a statement. “We need to double down on ensuring our small business[es] have the guidance, resources and tools to build back our main streets and communities.”

Commercial rents in the borough are stabilizing, according to the Real Estate Board of New York’s summer 2021 report — but small businesses could still face hard times finding new leases as national retailers compete for spots in Brooklyn commercial corridors with high levels of foot traffic.

Brooklyn businesses’ overall resilience coincides with soaring residential prices in the borough, as more city workers sought out more spacious apartments and proximity to public parks while working from home, The New York Times reported in September. Some companies relocated offices from Manhattan to Brooklyn in response.

Meanwhile, Manhattan businesses, particularly in Midtown and downtown, continue to lag, according to data provided to the Times by Homebase. REBNY also reported that both foot traffic and average asking rents for retailers remained lower than pre-pandemic levels during fall 2021.

But Brooklyn’s distressed businesses still need assistance in the form of additional grants, rent relief and marketing support, according to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. As many as 40% resorted to reducing their hours of operation to make up for lower sales, while two-thirds took on measures like upgrading point-of-sale systems and increasing e-commerce volumes.

“Optimism won’t pay the bills or ensure there is a path to continued growth for so many small businesses that at a point over the last two years probably were not sure whether they would survive another week or month,” Peers said.