Almost three quarters of Brooklyn’s small businesses failed to increase annual revenues last year, 69% lost customers and most are still struggling to recover from the effects of the pandemic, a new survey shows.

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce recently released the findings of its survey, in which it questioned 185 retailers, restaurants and bars, gyms, real estate and construction firms, manufacturers, and professional services to find out what issues were still affecting them following the pandemic outbreak, and what their biggest barriers are to economic recovery. 47% of businesses profiled are minority, women, or immigrant owned.

According to the survey, despite the City’s steps to get the economy up-and-running last year, only 41% of businesses reported an increase in year-over-year revenues from 2020 to 2021, and 72% of businesses continued to experience sales lower than 2019 levels.

68% reported losses of customers compared to 2019, and 41% still had slimmer employee headcounts.

“What our end of the year survey definitively shows is that business owners are continuously facing ongoing challenges roadblocking the truly robust recovery New York City deserves and is capable of achieving,” said Randy Peers, President and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

“But more than anything, our small businesses are amazingly resilient, and we have their backs for the long haul.”

The survey showed that staffing remained a major issue for small businesses, with 25% of businesses saying they were unable to operate or had to close for periods of time due to shortages.

Only one third of business owners reported they were able to retain or expand staff while 41% answered that they experienced labor shortages or had hard times filling positions.

Most business owners said the vaccine mandate did not significantly affect business because employees were overall compliant.

Rent issues persisted for 33% of businesses in 2021, and many are now in jeopardy of closing since the state lifted its 20-month eviction moratorium, BCC said.

However, 66% of businesses reported they had no issues paying rent last year.

Many businesses reported getting assistance either through the Paycheck Protection Program or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, and others said BCC had connected them with financial grants or low-interest loan programs.

Businesses received other sources of assistance, including 33% through government agencies and 18% from corporate or private foundations.

According to the survey, all the restaurants and bars that did outdoor dining and alcohol to-go programs had a jump in sales. 67% of businesses saw a 10-20% increase in revenue thanks to outdoor dining and 50% said alcohol to-go increased their bottom line by 10-20%, the survey shows.

33% percent of businesses said outdoor dining increased revenues by 20% or more, and 50% of businesses credited alcohol to-go as increasing sales by 20% or more.

One business owner said, “the only way we survived was with the seating outside. With each wave of the virus everyone moved outside even in winter.”

Currently, Governor Kathy Hochul is pushing to legalize the sale of to-go drinks, but is facing some push back from state lawmakers and the liquor lobby.

Peers said leaders needed to double down on ensuring “our small business have the guidance, resources and tools to build back our main streets and communities.”

“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.

Currently, BCC, along with LISC NYC and Bridge Street Development Corp., is convening Brooklyn-based minority small business owners and elected officials for a conversation about the challenges still facing local minority-owned small businesses and what policies and programs are needed to keep their doors open as we reach the pandemic’s 2-year mark.

On March 17, minority-owned small business owners will be sharing their personal stories with elected officials and economic development advocates to help inform the city’s economic recovery and decision making as officials negotiate FY23 budget agreements.

The event will take place at Industry City from 10:00am through 11:30am, March 17.

Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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