The Day the Village Stood Still: The Winter of Our Discontent

By Roger Paradiso 

 It’s been almost a year since the infamous day that the city started closing down because of COVID-19. But lockdowns and restrictions are not easy to enforce in the USA. It seems the country is split on listening to the CDC, doctors and politicians regarding the use of masks, distancing, and staying out of crowds. As the virus hangs around we learn more about it, but then it mutates into other forms like most viruses do. The previous administration offered mixed messages about all this, and it was not helpful. They also left the vaccine delivery system in shambles. Hopefully, the current administration can get us back on the road to recovery quickly. There are now more than 64 million people who have been vaccinated and some 19.5 million have gotten the second shot. 

President Biden delivered a new bill to the Congress quickly. This additional funding will help states vaccinate people efficiently and keep our economy from sinking into a deeper recession. 

Many small shops in the Village have gone out of business already. Many residents have left the West Village. This is a pattern happening all over the city and the country. The death toll has passed 500,000 people from this killer virus, and millions are infected. Residents and mom-and-pop shops in the Village struggle to stay above water.

Jamal, of Village Music World on Bleecker Street, is keeping his business going somehow. “Business is sometimes better if the weather is good. On other days it is depressing.” It should be noted that in February we had one major storm that left 18 inches of snow in the Village. There have also been smaller storms and the temperatures have been below freezing. 

“I hired a lawyer to handle my issues with the SBA,” Jamal said. He has been trying to get a Small Business Administration loan since last March. He has had one minor Paycheck Protection Program loan that barely helped. He survives by taking out personal loans and working alone in his store on many days to keep payroll down. He has tried working with Amazon, which he calls a “bloodsucker.” He tries to sell through them but “They don’t care about independent vendors. There is no money in it for me.”

Jamal is usually a very positive person with a good sense of humor. During this call I find him angry and frustrated. “I hope the lawyer can get me money. At least she told me they have to help. She said they need to help. You know some people get away with a lot of money being given to them. Others don’t get much.”

I speak to Vittorio about his situation with his charming restaurant off Washington Square Park. I ask what will help his La Lanterna di Vittorio? “That’s a good question. I guess it’s the obvious stuff. Warm weather, widespread vaccinations, and herd immunity. But most importantly, government aid in the form of grants.” He and his son Victor have been working so hard to hang in. To save money they do a lot of work that the staff used to do, including waiting on tables. 

The government has a program called the Paycheck Protection Program which provides loans so that staff can be maintained. Funding has run out, but the new bill will bring back the PPP.

“PPP will be extremely helpful, provided the forgiveness parameters are not too onerous,” said Vittorio. I asked him about small business loans; he said, “The SBA EIDL loans are tempting. But with the future being so uncertain, can I really afford to saddle my business with additional debt obligations? It then becomes a question of how deep do I want to make the proverbial “hole,” and when do I stop digging?”

Many small business owners are digging into personal savings and business loans thinking that these will be short-term solutions. But nothing about this pandemic is short-term. We are going on a year and counting. I ask Vittorio what he would like the new Biden bill to include and he says, “We need more grants and low interest loans.”

 As we move from winter to spring, there is finally some hope that we can wrangle this pandemic. We are given this hope by the Biden administration and its focus on the problem. Vaccinations are ongoing and the number of people inoculated is increasing every week. Two more vaccines are on the way: the Johnson and Johnson from New Jersey, and the Novavax from Maryland. They are different from the two current vaccines in that they don’t require extreme refrigeration. And the J & J vaccine is currently one shot. The FDA recently cleared its use. Novavax is finishing stage three clinical trials in the USA. When they do, and the results continue in a positive direction, they will submit to the FDA. So, these two vaccines are likely candidates to contribute to the vaccination of Americans in mid to late spring. In the meantime, keep masking, distancing, staying out of crowds, and handwashing. There is hope on the horizon.

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