A little less than one year later, the eatery, located on the corner of 201st Street and Linden Boulevard, was forced to shut down due to a fire. Champagne says the business remained closed until December, only to reopen just in time for COVID-19 to wreak havoc on New York City.
“We are a year into extremely tough times financially,” explained Champagne.
Nonetheless, 1976 Burgers & Wings has remained in operation, distributing more than 1,000 free meals to hungry residents throughout the pandemic. Despite being able to bring in revenue through takeout and delivery, Champagne says it is getting harder every day to keep his doors open.
“It’s not just a business, it’s my community,” he said. “If businesses like mine close, I’m afraid they’ll be replaced by others that don’t have that same interest in caring for our neighbors. That’s a huge loss for Queens.”
On Wednesday Champagne and Abraham joined a group of small businesses owners from across the borough as they united on the steps of Borough Hall.
They called for immediate relief and support from elected officials in their efforts to mitigate the staggering financial impacts of COVID-19 on their businesses.
“We're not looking for a loan, we’re not looking for pity,” Champagne said. “We’re looking for help.”
The rally showcased the rich diversity of Queens and its mom-and-pop shops: family owned school bus company Astoria Express Transit; Long Island City barbershop Otis & Finn; Ricas Supreme Team Boxing Studio in Sunnyside; Corona’s Tortilleria Nixtamal Mexican restaurant; and SPACE 224, an events venue out in Cambria Heights, to name a few.
Each business is currently struggling to navigate evolving COVID-19 regulations and health standards necessary to function within the “new normal,” while at the same time drowning under the costs associated with these protocols, in addition to unrelenting rents for their storefronts.
If relief doesn't arrive soon, the owners say they face the threat of shuttering for good and being forced to lay off employees, the majority of whom are neighborhood locals.
Last week’s rally was organized by Queens Together, a nonprofit formed at the height of the pandemic in order to fight food insecurity and aid the borough’s small businesses as they try to stay afloat.
The advocates were accompanied by staff from the Queens Chamber of Commerce, members of State Senator Michael Gianaris’ Small Business Advisory Committee, local Business Improvement District directors and a handful of elected officials.
Queens Together has put forth several recommendations for lawmakers that it believes will provide a lifeline for small businesses, since advocates say city and state programs up until this point have failed to effectively reach the borough’s struggling businesses.
The group is calling for commercial rent relief and the creation of tax incentives that would encourage property owners to rent to tenant collectives, as well as asking elected officials to put pressure on insurance companies to expedite access to business interruption insurance claims.
Advocates also demanded collaboration between city agencies, reevaluation of the city’s procurement process through a local business lens, a permanent citywide cap on the use of third-party delivery apps, a fresh round of disaster grants under improved guidelines, and the expansion of existing pandemic loan programs.
“Small businesses are at the heart of healthy neighborhoods, and even throughout this crisis we’ve seen small businesses that are struggling still giving back to the community when they have so little to give,” said Jaime-Faye Bean, who co-founded Queens Together with Jonathan Forgash.
“Our representatives need to understand that if we continue to ignore the impending disaster of small business closures, we are looking at tens of thousands of job losses in Queens alone, the destruction of our neighborhood fabric, and the decimation of livable Queens communities,” she added.