Over half of Nassau businesses have trimmed their payrolls

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Nassau County Executive Laura Curran presented the results of the county's COVID-19 economic impact study last Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the county executive's office).

More than 50 percent of businesses that participated in the county’s COVID-19 economic impact study have already laid off employees, according to a survey conducted by the Nassau County Economic Advisory Council.

The survey was the first step in assessing the countywide impact that the coronavirus is having on local businesses.  

More than 1,400 businesses took part within a week after the county and the council put the call out to businesses of all sizes and sectors. Some 68 percent of businesses that participated in the study began March 1 with five or fewer employees.

“This data is crucial to developing projections that will help us advocate for more resources from our state and federal partners as this crisis unfolds,” Curran said. “I thank the members of our Economic Advisory Council, Hofstra University, Nassau’s IDA and Nassau’s Bar Association for stepping up to ensure we come back stronger than ever when this ends.”

Nassau County Industrial Development Agency President Richard Kessel welcomed the study.

“The Nassau IDA is working closely with County Executive Curran to make sure that Nassau County is in as strong a position as possible to help the thousands of businesses who will need our help and guidance going forward,” he said. “All hands are on deck when it comes to helping Nassau businesses get back on their feet.”

According to the study, 56 percent of businesses have already laid off some of their employees, and more than 44 percent anticipate laying off employees by the end of 2020.

In another grim statistic, 72 percent of businesses said they anticipate laying off five or fewer employees before the end of the year.

Gary Bochner, the owner of East Hills Cleaners, said he has already made decisions to let go of six employees and is now one of three people who work on a weekly basis.

“I used to have nine people working, but I had to make the decision to let six people go because of precautionary reasons,” Bochner said. “It’s never easy to do that, but it creates less of a health risk for the other employees and our customers. Nobody could have seen this coming.”

Paul Doyle, one of the owners of Roast Sandwich House in Mineola, said he has been doing everything possible and utilize employees at the business’ two other locations in Hicksville and Melville.

“We’ve been trying to move around as many people as possible and keep people on as many hours as possible,” Doyle said. “I encourage people to come in for all local businesses because every sandwich or product you purchase is putting food on someone’s table.”

More than half of the businesses that responded said they would not make a profit this year and 81 percent of business owners said they would need a loan to fund the operations of their business this year.

The study also found 37 percent of those that responded have been in business for 20 years or more and 21 percent have been in business for 11 to 20 years.

Paul Oleksiw, an owner of Bill’s Auto Repair in Port Washington, said one of the benefits for established businesses throughout this pandemic has been the customer outreach.

“Our customers and people in the community who have known us since 1977 will call and actually check up on us,” Oleksiw said. “While business has certainly taken a hit, it’s nice to know that you have a group of people that still check in on how a business is doing.”

Oleksiw said the repair store has relied more on word-of-mouth business and tried to find other ways to have more of a virtual presence.  One of those ways was to utilize a business directory implemented by Blank Slate Media.

“I signed up for Blank Slate’s directory by just plugging in my information and uploaded a picture of the storefront,” Oleksiw said. “It’s nice to see all of the businesses in one place.”

Steven Blank, president and publisher of Blank Slate Media and its six newspapers throughout the North Shore, said the idea came from some of the chambers of commerce throughout the area.

“I started to notice other chambers in the area compiling lists of local businesses,” said Blank, who is also the president of the Roslyn Chamber of Commerce. “I thought our website, The Island Now, would be a great vehicle for that since we have seen a spike in web traffic since this all began.”

The directory, located at the top of the website, includes services ranging from restaurants and liquor stores to fitness and exercise. 

Blank said he believes the nation’s current economic state could fall into the paralysis that existed during the Great Depression and that businesses need to adapt their means of client outreach now more than ever.

“We have more unemployment right now than we did in 2008, and I think we’re heading into Great Depression territory in terms of our economy,” Blank said. “It takes a lot of time for businesses to create their brand.  This pandemic presents a new challenge to them. That’s why we wanted to create this directory.”

According to the study, 96 percent of businesses anticipate a decrease in revenue for the 2020 fiscal year. The study showed that 38 percent of businesses are anticipating decreases of 50 percent or more, and 39 percent of businesses said they anticipate between 21-50% decreased revenue.

Bochner said utilizing the directory was only part of the new client outreach he has conducted within the past month.

“I’ve been updating my email list, just like I did after Hurricane Sandy,” Bochner said. “I’ve been calling our usual clients and trying to reach out to others as well.  But it’s tough. Business has definitely taken a hit.”

Despite seeing less than half of the business he normally does, Bochner said he will be dry cleaning clothes for first responders for the months of April and May.

“I think we have to help each other out,” Bochner said. “The work these people are doing on a daily basis to keep us safe should be rewarded.”

Doyle shared Bochner’s sentiments and said donations his store receives go toward feeding nearby hospital workers.

“We’re right next to [NYU Winthrop Hospital], and we always try to find a way to donate some meals or food for those employees,” Doyle said. “We want to make sure our employees are taken care of, but they are the true heroes in all this.”

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