Brooklyn businesses that have survived a pandemic seek new PPP loans

The Garage, which specializes in filming TV commercials for food and beverage companies, has seen a rebound since the economy reopened. But he hasn’t booked a single job for January.

Sahadi Fine Foods, an imported food wholesale and retail business, is once again full of customers at its stores in Industry City and on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. But its restaurant customers are having trouble paying their bills, and 10% of them were permanently closed even before the recent suspension of limited meals indoors.

Christophe Pourny Studio, an antique restoration company that also sells natural products for furniture repair, is restoring furniture once again as many well-to-do New Yorkers decide to remodel their homes. But like The Garage, its list of upcoming projects is short as New Yorkers prepare for a winter worsening of the coronavirus crisis.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week that an in-person economic lockdown appears likely, with the mayor starting right after Christmas.

Meanwhile, Congress has yet to pass another federal aid bill, which could include hundreds of millions of dollars in new Paycheck Protection Program loans that the three companies say would be vital to getting through another round of severe. restrictions on economic activity.

Industry City offers outdoor options as winter approaches, December 16, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

THE CITY spoke with the operators of the companies, all based in Industry City in Sunset Park, to assess how they have survived the pandemic recession that has devastated the economy, how they will face another shutdown, and what help they need.

“The ups and downs of navigating the ups and downs are extraordinary,” said Pat Whelan, Sahadi’s managing director. “We are almost in a day-to-day thought process.”

Commercial operators also know that many people have it much worse, while others are thriving.

“Most of our clients have never spent so much time in their homes and now they have decided to do projects,” said Jason Jobson, co-owner of Christophe Pourny Studio, explaining the revival of his business. “We feel lucky and it’s kind of weird when so many people are struggling.”

In all, about half of Industry City’s 550 tenants have returned to their offices, factories and workshops, said the complex’s executive director, Andrew Kimball. The extensive collection of old industrial buildings, which also houses food outlets and retail outlets, draws some 10,000 visitors on weekends, despite the pandemic.

Bet on expansion

At the beginning of the year, business was booming at The Garage, which has been based on West 36th Street in Manhattan for 15 years.

The company decided it needed more space to expand its staff and launch two new businesses: one called Garage Education to provide training for the kind of highly technical video work it does, and another called Garage Rentals to rent the three additional $ 500,000 robots it does. planned to buy as part of the expansion plan. Robots move cameras with high speed and precision.

The company eventually signed a lease in Industry City, where it is currently building its space.

But when the shutdown occurred in March, all the jobs The Garage had lined up were canceled and the work came to an abrupt halt. A $ 215,000 PPP loan allowed owner Steve Giralt to keep his five employees and pay the rent. But the freelancers he uses in photo shoots are not paid when The Garage is out of work.

Steve Giralt planned to relocate his visual innovation production company, The Garage, from Midtown to Industry City on December 15, 2020.

Steve Giralt is settling in Industry City.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Due to its strong first quarter, The Garage’s revenue will increase slightly this year. Giralt spent this week working 12-hour shifts filming a commercial at his Manhattan location, and each member of the team was tested for COVID-19 at the beginning of each day. A single case and the consequent quarantine would close the company again.

“The pandemic is still affecting our business because traveling on assignments is not worth it and some clients are trying to pay their bills and not spend money on advertising,” Giralt said.

If there is another closure, you will need an APP loan to keep your staff paid and continue your expansion plans.

“It will help me not to be afraid of hiring new people, without knowing what is coming,” he added.

Dreaded permissions

A week before Cuomo ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in the spring, Jobson and his partner, Christophe Pourny, closed their studio in the manufacturers section of Industry City.

“We were concerned, especially about our employees taking the subway,” Jobson said. Soon all the work they were doing was shut down as well.

A $ 50,000 PPP loan allowed him to pay his rent and payroll.

Business began to run thin in June before taking off and returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Christophe Pourny's studio in Industry City serves as a showroom and workspace for renovating antique furniture, on December 16, 2020.

Christophe Pourny’s studio in Industry City serves as a showroom and workspace for renovating antique furniture.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

“Most wealthy people travel and have two, maybe three homes,” he said. “These people have never spent so much time in their homes and now they have decided to do projects.”

Interior designers, the company’s main source of business, have never been busier, Jobson added.

The studio also sells a line of all-natural furniture products through 300 stores nationwide. The business has done well, as these stores focus on online sales and customers from a much broader economic spectrum spend time fixing their homes.

However, as with The Garage, the outlook for next year remains uncertain because no one knows what actions government officials will take to contain the latest spike in coronavirus cases.

“Another shutdown will be very difficult,” Jobson said. “We will probably have to fire our workers.”

Paying your bills will depend on another PPP loan.

A bill balancing law

This week, Whelan of Sahadi’s sat down with its controller to review a restaurant chain customer whose unpaid balance had risen to $ 60,000 from $ 40,000 after reopening over the summer. With another closure looming, he worries that he might keep the full amount if the chain can’t survive the latest eating restrictions.

“We told them they would have to consolidate their deliveries into fewer deliveries,” he said, “and they have to work that balance.”

Industry City location of Middle East grocer Sahadi, September 10, 2020.

Location of the industrial city of Sahadi
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Whelan’s suppliers also seem concerned. You recently received two emails from one requesting payment of an invoice. He had to call them to tell them that not only was he fully paid, but the amount they were asking for was not due for 10 days.

The pandemic has turned out to be the most difficult period in the 30 years that Whelan has worked in the family business. He said his warehouse, where workers roast nuts and spices and package imported food, loses money because it can no longer compete with lower-cost operations outside of New York.

He has been working to reposition the company with the new 8,500-square-foot store in Industry City, designed as the prototype for a group of similar outlets planned in the city to showcase his company’s products and other specialty foods.

Unprecedented turnover

Whelan recently reorganized the Industry City store so that workers could move tables that had been outdoors indoors with the onset of winter. He finished doing that last week.

“Then they closed the indoor dining room,” he said.

The company raised about $ 800,000 in three APP loans to keep operations going during the turmoil.

Whelan believes another closure could reduce his restaurant’s customers by another 20%. When asked about the future, he simply said, “Ask me again in two weeks after seeing the year-end results.”

Kimball is confident that Industry City and its tenants will survive. Since March, the complex has signed leases totaling 500,000 square feet. In addition to The Garage, they will arrive at the Union Square Ventures complex, a major venture capital firm, and Cowtan and Tout, who took 25,000 feet for a home goods and fabrics showroom, warehouse and offices.

In total, 75% of the complex will be leased by the end of the year, the highest level yet under current ownership.

The Sahadi owners created a Christmas tree image with the names of their workers.

The Sahadi owners decorated a Christmas tree with the names of their workers.
Courtesy of Sahadi’s

Still, signs abound of how the pandemic has disrupted business, including at Sahadi’s: Each year, the company hangs the names of all employees on a small Christmas tree in the office lobby. This year, half of the names are new, representing an unprecedented turnover.

“We’ve never seen that in 30 years,” Whelan said.

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