“We are scared, nervous, and mostly unsure of our future, while Congress makes sure people can stay home because they can easily live off the added income they are getting, slowly one by one, we will disappear from the landscape.” This line is from an email I received from Max Calicchio, co-owner with Alison Marchese of the restaurant Max’s Es-Ca on Staten Island in New York City.
Since mid-March his establishment has been reduced to delivery and take out, revenue is at about 20 percent, and he’s worried. That’s why he and several others on the island decide to take a stand.
Calicchio organized a group of about 20 proprietors to meet with local politicians and implore them to re-open restaurants and to strategize ways to protest the brutal lockdown on their livelihoods and those of their employees. For now this effort is taking the form of lawn signs urging New Yorkers to tell Gov. Andrew Cuomo that enough is enough. As the signs pop up on lawns like spring flowers across Richmond County, Calicchio and his friends pray they harbor some hope.
Before delving too deeply into the reasonable demands of these unlikely protesters, it is important to note the nature of their protest. Calicchio told The Federalist that there is no desire to antagonize the governor or anyone else. In a borough where respect matters these people are showing some.
These are not gun-toting, maskless, protesters courting the spread of the virus; they are small business owners who found a socially distant way to get their message out. If as Mayor de Blasio claims, physical protest will not be allowed in New York City, then it is incumbent upon him and the governor to take seriously those who are peacefully petitioning the government to redress their grievances in other ways.
What was most palpable in talking to this business owner was the pervasive sense of uncertainty. When this all started, he said, “we all thought by June we’d be back at least with half capacity.” That was a big ask, but something they could prepare for. Now when I asked him when he expects to be serving food again he simply told me he has no idea.
In response to De Blasio saying last week that he had spoken to small business owners who assured him that they could survive a few more months, Calicchio was absolutely incredulous, saying, “I’d like to meet those business owners.” As the season of First Communion parties, wedding rehearsal dinners, and balmy lingering evenings slowly passes, New York’s restaurants see income evaporating, never to return.
To say that the situation in New York City is becoming dire is a vast understatement. The lawn signs were the brainchild of popular Staten Island city councilman Joe Borelli who told me, “This is about reminding Andrew Cuomo of the new human cost of this. New York City is handing out one million meals per day. We have reached the point of bread lines.” But this is a reality the governor simply refuses to even acknowledge. He seems to think New Yorkers are just grumpy because there is nothing left to watch on Netflix.
When Calicchio and his group have asked political leaders when things might change they have been told, “we can’t give you an answer because we don’t have one.” It’s not good enough. Not by a long shot. Furthermore, plans that have been vaguely mentioned like opening restaurants at diminished capacity and using disposable utensils give him little hope. “I serve a tomahawk steak,” he told me, “I can’t put out plastic knives.”
With no hope in sight things are getting grim. Calicchio said the first few weeks of the lockdown his customers made a real effort that he appreciated to support his business, but as time goes on and money runs short in the homes of Gotham, that support is dwindling.
These business owners need answers. In fact, they need one very specific answer, which is that they be allowed, in very short order, to operate their establishments at full capacity and fulfill the role they have always played in their communities.
Gov. Cuomo needs to spend less time worried about the fawning of cable news anchors and more time worried about the plight of hard working New Yorkers literally trying to put food on the table. There is no more time for delay.