The financing does not arrive, the clientele neither, the rent must be paid, the situation is complicated in the county
Angel Rivera admits that there are days when he is simply sitting waiting for clients. In the barbershop that this Ecuadorian has had for 23 years in the Boston Road area, in the Bronx, there was always activity but since they were able to open neither this business nor the nail repair business they have, they are serving many people.
And he understands it. “Some are afraid of being infected, other problems with uncertainty,” he explains. “In all places the situation is very sad but this is a poor neighborhood and there is a lot of precariousness,” he laments with a voice in which a certain resignation is perceived.
In the block where your business is installed there are four that have not opened. Rivera explains in one word what is the goal of small businessmen in the area like him: “to survive.”
He has already survived COVID-19, a disease he suffered, and now his business has to.
Six people worked there but now there are only four. Before the pandemic, he moved the barbershop building and says he is lucky because the new landlord, a company, “is not pressing me for now”, despite the fact that he owes the rent from when it was closed, $ 3,000 per month. He also has to repay a loan he took to start up his new store.
To the closings, lack of clients and debts that accumulate in many areas of the Bronx, is added the fact that many of the entrepreneurs in the area have been left out of aid programs.
Rivera asked for a loan of less than $ 10,000, “which is nothing,” he adds. But they did not grant it. The barber, who helps train other immigrants in his profession, explains that the only help that has come to him was given to him by Romeo Santos. “He’s a friend,” says the artist and bachatero. “He is from here and I have known him for years, he brought me a donation and children to cut their hair.”
Many Latino entrepreneurs have not been able to request the partially forgivable loan offered by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). And all this comes when The Bronx starts from a very complicated situation because it is at the most disadvantaged end of the economic inequality that exists in the country and of course in the city.
Yesmín Vega, manager in WHEDco’s community development program, believes that the current closures and the difficult decisions that many are making regarding their uncertain future are only part of the problem. She believes that the situation is getting worse and “that you are seeing only the tip of the iceberg.”
The mission of WHEDco, this organization centered in the South Bronx, is to provide resources in the areas of housing, education, food and economic opportunity. Vega says that many of the businesses in the area are oriented to personal care and that is one of the services that are suffering the most. 90% of the businesses served by this organization are black, Latino and undocumented.
“Not only are there fewer people who want to take care of their hair because it does not come out, but also many people have chosen to save instead of consuming and we must also bear in mind that we are in an area with unemployment of 25%.” Vega says that when it comes to lack of work, it is not the same to talk about Manhattan or Queens as it is about The Bronx, where things were already complicated before the virus arrived.
This advisor talks about the triple pressure suffered in the area and the reason why she believes that the worst is yet to come: the effect on health of COVID, which has harmed the black and Latino communities above all, the economic problem that has generated and the speculation that exists in this area due to the rezoning of Jerome Avenue, where many businesses are closing their doors.
“We are seeing many new constructions after many businesses have been closed and developers leave empty premises waiting for the big business, it does not cost them much to have it like that,” he says.
“Although the rezoning of Southern Boulevard has not been approved, it has not reduced real estate speculation, we are seeing only part of it,” he explains.
Vega believes that the problems will emerge more strongly when the courts begin to process the evictions of tenants and businesses. At the moment and before this happens, there are small businesses that are closing because they can no longer afford the expenses and they know that this is going to last.
“What we are seeing is that they leave the business without a closure plan, they do not transfer, they do not sublet, they do not sell inventory, they simply close,” he says.
This adviser says that at the beginning of the pandemic, merchants in the area were not interested in managing aid because they thought the quarantine would last two weeks. At WHEDco they began to give seminars on marketing, social presence management and when they saw that the situation was going for a long time, they began to help process loan applications and aid from those they could –for immigration reasons–. Many entrepreneurs missed the opportunity because they did not want to add more debt to what they already had.
“The other problem is that not everyone had an established credit history,” laments Vega, who explains that there were those who got the PPP but only received $ 1,000 or $ 2,000. “More are needed grants – concessions of money that do not have to be repaid – more aid, loans are more difficult ”. At this moment he is trying to find financing for the Ecuadorian barber.
Although the situation that is feared is complicated, from WHEDco they do not stop providing help from VOLS (Voluntary Legal Services) they are offering legal assistance to pay or renegotiate the rent, the payment of arrears or the closure of the business. “We are seeing how questions to lawyers are changing.”
Vega is helping Ángel Rivera find financing. He still hasn’t heard of the possibility of obtaining it. “And in the meantime I’m still here,” he says, waiting for customers.