Port City businesses face closure, uncertainty

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, above right, speaks during Tuesday's press conference as Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katie Toomey looks on.

OSWEGO — Businesses in downtown Oswego are bracing for the impact of widespread social distancing and public uncertainty that could bring an economic slowdown due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday restaurants statewide will now be take-out only, and gyms, theaters and casinos must close outright until further notice. Cuomo also urged businesses to voluntarily allow employees to work from home.

Dan Connors, a manager at Paul’s Big M, told The Palladuim Times  recently toilet paper, some canned goods and hand sanitizer were selling especially fast. A toilet paper shipment on Friday sold out in half an hour, he said. Across the country, grocery stores and other vendors have been strained as some individuals stockpile food and other items.

river’s end bookstore owner Bill Reilly said the store reduced its hours preemptively and he discussed the issue over the weekend with his staff. With a sign at the front of the store reading “Books, the other paper product worth stockpiling,” some of the store’s employees are staying home already, Reilly said.

The store has increased its cleaning activity and is offering free shipping for online patrons until further notice. river’s end is also considering starting a curbside delivery service for customers who are uncomfortable coming into the store.

“It’s been suggested that all non-essential business close and allow their employees to work from home, but that’s not the nature of retail,” Reilly said. “Further reducing hours is a possibility but we’re taking it day-by-day.”

Reilly said all author events have been cancelled or postponed.

“That portion of our business is a large chunk of our monthly revenue and it’s gone away for the moment,” Reilly said. “So will that impact employment at the store? Absolutely.”

Similarly, Maida’s Floral Shop owner Deb Sherwood said she has been paying close attention to wiping down store surfaces and focusing on online and over-the phone orders.

“We’re calling our customers when we’re in route, when we get to their house we’ll call them and leave their order on the stoop. We’ll tell them their order is there, and then drive away,” Sherwood said. “So we’ll have very limited contact.”

Sherwood anticipates that her business will be affected by social distancing but hopes the community will use the shop as a way to brighten people’s day in trying times.

“Yesterday we had quite a few people come in who wanted flowers delivered to a nursing home, seeing as they couldn’t get to the nursing home themselves,” Sherwood said.

Murdock’s Bicycles & Sports owner Greg Mills said this is normally not a particularly busy time of the year for him, and that he hasn’t seen a downtick in business yet from his normal sales.

“If someone comes in and rides a bike, just wipe it down and use common sense,” Mills said.

At this time of year, Mills normally doesn’t have more than ten people come in the store at a given time, well under the crowd size limit of 50 implemented by the governor’s office.

Oswego announced a series of initiatives this week designed to help prevent a coronavirus crisis, including subsidies for child care for people needed in the workforce with children. The city community development office is deferring payments for three months for small businesses that have loans.

Port City Mayor Billy Barlow Tuesday afternoon held a press conference with county leaders to discuss precautions being taken against the virus’ spread and more help for locals.

Barlow announced a suspension on tax and fee payments for 30 days free of all late fees for city residents and businesses, noting that time period is subject to change as new information becomes available. Barlow also stopped a 120-day suspension on loan payments for businesses that have loans with the city; this policy also could be lengthened as time goes on.

“I think (businesses) need to have the mentality that we need to do all the right things right now, upfront to stop this from being a longer-term situation,” Barlow said. “We’ll be further ahead now by taking these measures, the measures we’re doing right here today. They’re extremely painful, I understand that, but if we don’t do this right here, right now, then we could pay for it months down the road.”

Katie Toomey, executive director of the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is trying to keep in contact with as many of its members as possible and is assembling a COVID-19 taskforce to assess the needs of its members.

Toomey said the “vast majority” of eateries in Oswego are operating in some capacity currently, adjusting to the governor’s order that all restaurants transition to take-out or delivery only.

Toomey urged patrons to support local businesses, even if that means ordering online or leaving a positive review on the internet.

Barlow said he and the chamber will be working together in the coming weeks to compile a list on the city’s website of businesses that are open and in what capacity, to alert customers of where theycan still shop and eat.

Legislative assistance

The coronavirus outbreak has been the dominant topic of discussion for local, state and federal politicians in the past few weeks. On Tuesday, state legislators passed a bill that would, among other measures, provide paid sick leave to anyone quarantined by novel coronavirus. Job protection for the duration of quarantine orders and access to short-term disability benefits are also guaranteed by the legislation. Employers with fewer than 99 employees must provide at least five days of paid sick leave. Those with more than 100 employees and all public employers must provide at least 14 days of paid sick leave.

Cuomo’s announcement came with the news that New York state has surpassed one thousand confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 1,374 cases statewide. New York City now has the most confirmed cases of any area in the state with 644 and the counties of Rensselaer, Sullivan and Clinton on Tuesday announced their first cases. Oswego County is yet to have a confirmed case although several individuals are being monitored by the county health department.

Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, on Tuesday proposed a bill known as the Small Business Emergency Recovery Act of 2020 to further alleviate some of the financial stress businesses will inevitably face.

“Small businesses make up nearly 99 percent of the businesses in New York State and employ nearly half the state’s workforce, amounting to approximately four million New Yorkers,” Barclay said. “The impacts of COVID-19 threaten not only public health, but will likely have long-term impacts on New York state’s economy.”

The bill would implement several beneficial measures, such as directing the state’s settlement reserve fund of $890 million be directed to small businesses, the creation of a zero-percent interest loan program dedicated to helping small businesses, repurposing available tax credits to help the needs of businesses and suspending a number of fees and taxes.

The state Legislature is due back in their respective chambers in Albany today.

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