Organized by Hamilton Beach resident Priscilla Dolce, the demonstration kicked off at New Park Pizza, where attendees held signs and wore buttons. They marched down Cross Bay Boulevard for one mile and stopped at Vetro Restaurant & Lounge.
Dolce said the purpose of the event was to promote small businesses on the boulevard, most of which are family-owned.
“This is what makes this neighborhood what it is,” she said. “We thrive on this.”
Although Cross Bay Boulevard was bustling with cars, pedestrians and activity on Saturday, Dolce said the commercial strip has been “empty” for the last few weeks. She thinks people had enough and began venturing out.
“For the first seven weeks, it was a ghost town here,” she said. “There was no life here.”
Although Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the first phase of New York City’s reopening on June 8, attendees said they did not think it was early enough. Dolce said the governor should have begun the first phase more than two weeks ago, when she said the COVID-19 curve flattened.
Dolce, who works at a catering facility, said she can’t even go back to work until Phase Four of the reopening. Still, she has to pay rent, her son’s college tuition and other bills.
“It’s not fair to keep all people home, how are we supposed to support our families?” she asked. “How are we supposed to live and pay our bills?”
Among the rally’s attendees was State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who said he wanted to highlight the need for small businesses to come back and to get people back to work. He also agreed that the June 8th reopening was not soon enough.
“The negative effect of this virus is going to be felt for years,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to get the economy back and get these businesses open again in a safe way.
“People want to get back to work,” Addabbo added. “They don’t want to stay home and get a check.”
The state lawmaker noted that with hospitalizations and other numbers stabilized, and with safety protocols like mask requirements, plexiglass and social distancing in place, small businesses should be able to “go forward” with reopening.
“They understand the balance between the need to open and the safety,” he said. “We can do this.”
Addabbo added that he’s heard the call to reopen from many businesses in his district, which runs from central Queens to the Rockaways.
“I have businesses who risk being shut down because they understand if they cannot open soon, they will never open,” he said. “This is a person’s livelihood that they’ve spent every ounce of their being to maintain.”
Another supporter at the Howard Beach rally was Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Grech said given that everyone has been in quarantine for the last 13 weeks, people are now “chomping at the bit.”
In particular, Grech is advocating for the reopening of restaurants, which need more time to procure the necessary meat, vegetables, fish and other ingredients. Unlike businesses that can simply open and be ready again, restaurants and other small businesses with high-touch environments need to go out and buy the supplies they need, Grech said.
He expressed concern that of the 6,000 restaurants in the borough, up to half of them “may never see the light of day again.”
“The sooner we can get people back to business, the sooner people want to go out and get something to eat,” Grech said, “the better it is for everybody.”
Dolce noted that she did not want to discredit people who are sick from the coronavirus, especially because some people in the community tested positive and some have died from the virus.
While the pandemic has been devastating, she said that doesn’t mean people should stop their lives.
“Yes it’s bad, but if we’re going to stay home until the virus is completely gone, we’re never going to go back to work,” Dolce said.
The Hamilton Beach resident added that she tried to organize a similar rally the previous weekend, but only about ten people showed up. This time, she involved local business owners, which produced a better turnout.
She if necessary, she would consider hosting more rallies calling for businesses to reopen.
“This is just a friendly neighborhood call to support our small businesses,” Dolce said.