A substantial majority of Westchester businesses responding to a county survey say they are in trouble because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The results of this survey clearly show that the Westchester business community is struggling to survive during this crippling economic downturn and needs help,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer said. “This survey provides the county with valuable information on what services and assistance these companies need to remain in business as our economy recovers from the pandemic.”
The results of the survey were released by the county’s Office of Economic Development. A questionnaire was sent to lists of businesses. Bridget Gibbons, the county’s economic director, said that more than 700 responses were received.
“Fifty-eight percent of the business that responded said they probably will lose between 75% and 100% of their revenues given the shutdown. Another 17% said that they’d lose 50% to 75%,” Gibbons told the Business Journal.
Gibbons said that businesses reported being affected in different ways, such as being forced to close their doors by state order, having illnesses among employees and being unable to institute work-from-home because of the nature of the business.
“We asked how could we be helpful and 85% of the businesses said they needed financial assistance, they were applying to the SBA (the federal government’s Small Business Administration) for loans and they needed help with those applications,” Gibbons said. “We quickly organized a volunteer pool. We had 400 people respond and we trained those folks on how to help businesses apply for those SBA loans and then we launched the volunteer application assistance program.”
More than half of the businesses that responded to the survey were from the retail and personal services sectors along with administrative and professional services. The majority of the respondents reported having some part-time employees and 60% of them had either fewer than five employees or were sole proprietors.
When it came to a description of their revenues before the business shutdown, 29% said they had annual gross revenues of more than $1 million and 25% said their receipts were under $100,000. In terms of longevity, 65% reported being in business in Westchester for more than 10 years. About 70% said they needed help in marketing or adjusting their business model in order to keep customers. Specific concerns included cash flow, being able to pay the rent, paying employees and the long-term outlook.
“I talk to business owners all day long so I knew what was going on,” Gibbons said. “I knew there was great suffering and great fear about the future and whether or not they can make it through these three or four months with no revenue. It’s a very sobering situation. Larger businesses may have a little bit of a reserve. Mom and pop businesses run month-to-month in many cases and to go months without any income, revenue, is really devastating.”
She said the survey showed that businesses needed help in learning how to survive and that has led her department to start developing a crisis advisory program.
“I spoke with a woman yesterday who has a dance studio and she said what should she be doing at this time. She’s closed. Should she sell her business? Should she merge with another dance studio? Should she forge ahead and take a loan and take on debt? It’s those kinds of existential questions that businesses are facing at this time,” Gibbons said. “As a county we’re trying to provide resources to help people think these things through and do what is best for the immediate term and long term.”
Gibbons said that right now some business owners just want to talk because they’re scared and they don’t know what the future may hold.
“I try to reassure that we’re here for them; as much as we can help we will,” Gibbons said. “Thankfully, we’re seeing a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel as these discussions about reopening are more common and we can start to see the governor talking about what this next phase may look like.”
Latimer characterized the survey as providing important information so the county can be responsive.
“Our economic activity has to follow doing things that matter to the business community. Not just creating what we think is important but listening to the business community and responding to the business community and particularly the small business community, which we think is very important,” Latimer said.