Queens businesses say they are battling the COVID-19 pandemic and look forward to fewer regulations – QNS.com

When the Punda Tibetan restaurant in Sunnyside opened in 2015, owner Tenzing Tsering said business was doing extremely well. Tsering said he received awards from elected officials, was mentioned in local newspapers and even had an article appear in the New York Times. The Times article described the traditional Tibetan menu items of Tsering in great detail, making any reader’s mouth water. It’s fair to say that Tibetan Restaurant Punda has received rave reviews from food writers and locals alike.

Today, after the COVID-19 pandemic upended the hospitality industry, Tibetan restaurant Punda lost around 75% of its business. A thriving restaurant that was once busy is now struggling to pay its rent and faces the risk of closure.

“Before I had about six employees, now I have no workers because I can’t pay them,” Tsering said. “Everything collapsed. I was broken.”

Luckily, Tsering had saved some money helping him survive as he was forced to shut down his business for a few months when the pandemic first hit in March 2020. He also relied heavily on vouchers delivery at the end of 2020 and 2021.

“The hardest thing is the rent for the house,” Tsering said. “I told the owner of my house that we had to close the business. But the owner of the house kept saying, ‘you have to pay.’ I am very afraid. I hope it won’t take long to resume operations.

According to the New York State Comptroller’s Office, New York City’s restaurant industry has lost 169,700 jobs by 2021, representing 41% of total private sector jobs lost since 2019.

Tsering has fought tooth and nail to stay open at Sunnyside. However, he said recent vaccination mandates have made it nearly impossible for his business to get back to where it was before the pandemic.

“People don’t want to show vaccination cards,” Tsering said. “If we don’t allow them to have dinner, we lose all our belongings. But if we do, we get fined by the city. We are sandwiched between the guests and the government.

Beny Castro, an adviser at the Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC), agrees with Tsering, saying every company he has worked with has taken a huge hit due to city regulations.

“A lot of people don’t want to get vaccinated or think they don’t want to show their vaccination records. This has just been a blow to small businesses and has deeply affected them overall,” Castro said.

Fortunately for Tsering, vaccine and mask mandates will be lifted on March 7. New York City became the first U.S. city to require proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for indoor dining and other activities in August 2021.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio demanded vaccines in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID and encourage vaccinations. Before proof of vaccines was required, about 66% of adults in the city were fully vaccinated. Today, 86.8% of adults are fully immunized, according to city data.

Tsering hopes that once those mandates are lifted, he will start winning back clients. Otherwise, he will be forced to close his business by the end of this year.

“It would make a huge difference for me and for everyone,” Tsering said. “But if we can’t pay the rent or the bills, we’ll have to leave within a year. It’s very difficult.”

As an advisor to CEQD, Castro works to help local businesses recoup lost revenue due to the pandemic through marketing techniques, securing grants and more. Castro said it broke his heart to see so much hardship in small businesses in Queens.

“I’m very close to a lot of business owners in different industries, but specifically restaurant owners – to see what they’ve had to go through, it’s very sad. It’s very, very difficult,” Castro said. “I can’t count the number of businesses I’ve seen closed.”

Wen Liu of Flushing owns Upper Trans, an education company that teaches English and Mandarin to children and adults. Liu said he lost 99% of his customers once the pandemic hit New York in 2020.

Before the pandemic, she worked with a community center in Brooklyn, teaching nearly 80 students. Now Liu only has one or two students she works with remotely.

“Before the pandemic, I had no problem buying food or shopping sometimes,” Liu said. “I felt much better walking down the street and I never thought of being attacked in the metro station. But after the pandemic, it’s so scary. Financially, it’s a big loss. I have almost no income. And I don’t go out either for security reasons.

Liu referred to the multitude of Asian hate crimes that have swept the city. Most recently, an Asian woman attacked in Corona in November died after spending weeks in a medically induced coma. Liu even said she thinks the onslaught of racism amid the pandemic has affected her business as well.

“I have a degree in education, a master’s degree, but now I have no students,” Liu said. “I lost a lot”

As COVID-19 cases have trended downward, Mayor Eric Adams stuck by his decision to lift vaccination and mask mandates. He predicts there will be a big growth opportunity for small businesses in the city as regulations are lifted.

“I want to thank the millions of New Yorkers who got vaccinated to help stop the spread,” Adams said. “New York City numbers continue to drop day by day, so as long as the COVID indicators show a low level of risk and we don’t see any surprises this week, on Monday March 7, we will also be lifting the requirements. Key2NYC. This will give business owners time to adapt and allow us to ensure that we are making the best public health decisions for the people of New York.