Small Business Owners Are Still Struggling in New York


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Good morning. It’s Friday. We’ll look at how small businesses are holding up as the city tries to move out of the pandemic. We’ll go kayaking with a congressional hopeful who is one of more than a dozen Democrats running in the Aug. 23 primary in just one district. And, speaking of the primary, today is the last day to register to vote in it.

Kymme Williams-Davis opened a coffee shop in Brooklyn called Bushwick Grind in 2015. She spent $200,000 renovating the space she rented and added a kitchen. She specializes in coffee brewed from locally roasted fair-trade beans.

Bushwick Grind did well until the pandemic hit and the shop had to close for nine months.

But as my colleague Lydia DePillis wrote, running a small business hasn’t gotten any easier since Bushwick Grind reopened. Foot traffic has yet to rebound. Williams-Davis’s expenses for coffee and other ingredients have skyrocketed, in part because farmers from upstate New York she used to depend on are saving on gas by driving to the city less often.

And enough employees have quit to add another complication to the demands of trying to operate at full strength.

All that has left her uncertain about the future and Bushwick Grind’s chances for survival. “I feel like it’s 50-50,” she said, “because if I don’t find a way to reduce my liability and retain capital, I won’t be able to make it too much longer.”

Williams-Davis’s concerns are widespread. The nonprofit Small Business Majority, in a survey this month, found that nearly one in three small businesses could not survive without additional capital or a change in business conditions. That finding was echoed in a survey by Alignable, a social network for small-business owners, which found that 43 percent of small businesses in New York were in jeopardy of closing in the fall, 12 percentage points more than a year ago.

Chuck Casto of Alignable blamed patchy return-to-work policies that have left many Manhattan offices empty and nearby small businesses hurting. Some 41 percent of small businesses in New York could not pay their rent in full or on time in July, according to Alignable. That was up seven percentage points from last month. Only Massachusetts had a higher delinquency rate, and by only one percentage point.

During the shutdown, Williams-Davis covered the rent by subletting the space, and she landed a contract to deliver 400 meals a day to city vaccination sites when she reopened. The contract gave her the cash flow to qualify for a loan so she could buy her own space.

But she hasn’t come close to closing on a deal. She has been outbid more than once by investors with deeper pockets.

This week the city announced a $1.5 million commitment to continue a public and private small-business outreach network that was created during the pandemic. The idea was to offer legal and technical assistance, among other things.

“The hardest thing is this transition to a digital economy,” said Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group that started the network, “because these are mostly brick-and-mortar businesses that did not have as sophisticated presence online or marketing capacity.”

Kat Lloyd had much the same idea when she and a partner started a small business to do digital marketing for small businesses. Now, she said, “everybody else is struggling, so we’re struggling.”

“I can’t hire more people to do the work I need — I need to focus on the bottom line,” said Lloyd, who like Williams-Davis is in Bushwick. “Every day for a few months, I woke up with this ball in my throat and a pit in my stomach about how I’m going to pay my landlord while I make sure my clients are taken care of.”


Expect a partly sunny day with temps in the high 80s, with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. The showers may continue into the evening, with temps dropping to the low 70s.


In effect until Aug. 15 (Feast of the Assumption).

Elizabeth Holtzman shattered glass ceilings and voted to impeach Richard Nixon when she was a congresswoman in the 1970s. Now she is running again, in a crowded primary field in the 10th Congressional District in Brooklyn and Manhattan. My colleague Nicholas Fandos not only interviewed her; he went kayaking with her. Here’s how he says that came about:

Years ago, someone Elizabeth Holtzman did not know died and left modest bequests to her and two other pioneering congresswomen from New York, Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm.

Holtzman, who was once the youngest woman elected to Congress, spent the money on a kayak, a dark green Walden that she uses in the summer to paddle around the Peconic River on eastern Long Island, where she often spends weekends.

So when I first asked Holtzman this spring about her unusual decision to come out of a long political retirement and run for Congress at age 80, she suggested that perhaps we hit the water.

As a political reporter, I’ve walked with candidates as they greeted voters outside supermarkets, in restaurants and at parades. I polished off plates of Mississippi ribs with a former cabinet secretary running in the Deep South. I even spent an afternoon in northern Montana with Senator Jon Tester as he tried to fix a grain auger, a large piece of farm equipment used to move his crops. But never before had a politician asked me to kayak.

I am no kayaking expert, but of course I said yes to Holtzman.

We agreed to meet at Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on a sizzling summer evening earlier this month. We rented kayaks, snapped on life vests and headed out to a stretch of protected water off the Brooklyn waterfront. The Brooklyn Bridge floated above us. The skyline of the financial district towered across the East River, and there was a magical moment when the Statue of Liberty appeared across the harbor.

Back on dry land a little later, she talked about deciding to get into the race because she was enraged by the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. “I said to myself, you know, I don’t have to sit on the sidelines,” she told me.

If she wins, half a century after she set her first record, Holtzman would probably be the oldest non-incumbent ever elected to Congress. She is no stranger to long shots and record-breaking campaigns: Her victory in 1972 came against Emanuel Celler, a 50-year incumbent backed by the Brooklyn Democratic machine. Later, she was the first (and still only) woman elected district attorney in Brooklyn and New York City comptroller. (She was nearly New York’s first female senator, but lost to Alfonse D’Amato in 1980 in a close race.)

Before we paddled back to Pier 2, we also talked about her family, Jewish immigrants who fled Russia and arrived at Ellis Island; about her work for Mayor John Lindsay; about the improving conditions in the East River; and about good kayaking spots around New York.

Ms. Holtzman is keenly aware that, in a summer when Democrats are fretting about the age of President Biden and other Democratic leaders in Washington, there are concerns about her age. In the interview, she insisted she was every bit as vigorous as she once was. I asked if she was at all tired — a term she used to describe Celler in her first campaign.

“You answer that question,” she said with a laugh, eventually adding, “I’m not tired. I’m not tired at all.”

Dear Diary:

A friend and I were walking along East 86th Street on a lovely spring afternoon. She was describing two outfits and asking my opinion about which one to wear to a fancy corporate dinner that evening.

I was considering her choices when we heard a voice: “Wear the velvet jacket and silk pants.”

Looking to our right, we saw a young woman pushing a baby carriage. Since we couldn’t decide which option was best, my friend took her advice.

—Marilyn Hillman

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you on Monday. — JB

PS Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Walker Clermont and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at

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