NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday stood firm in saying he will not allow New York City to reopen restaurants for indoor dining until the city comes up with a plan to monitor the businesses.
The Democratic governor says he thinks restaurants should open, but said the city needs to come up with a way to monitor all restaurants in the city – over 27,000 – and ensure they are adhering to proper guidelines.
“These institutions are under dire economic circumstances,” Cuomo told reporters on Thursday. “And we know that compliance has to happen.”
On Friday, New York City will be the only area in the Tri-State that does not allow some form of indoor dining. The return to indoor restaurants was put on hold when New York City entered Phase 4 in June.
New Jersey had previously paused plans to return to indoor dining as well, but Gov. Phil Murphy announced indoor eating would return on Friday.
Following the news from New Jersey, the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio faced immense pressure from restaurant owners in the five boroughs to reopen indoor eateries.
More than 300 city restaurants have also filed a class action lawsuit against the city and the state, demanding $2 billion over the indoor dining ban.
On Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio defended the ban on indoor dining, stressing that it’s still difficult to achieve with a population of over 8 million.
“Indoor restaurants are still sensitive – they may not be as much of a challenge as bars and nightclubs, but they’re still really sensitive and they have been linked to problems around the country, around the world,” he said.
He added that he expects the state to provide guidelines for reopening within the month.
“We’ve been honest with the restaurant industry about the challenge, but I’ve also heard back that folks just want a final answer as soon as possible so they can make their plans up and down, and I think it’s our responsibility to give them as clear an answer, in the month of September, as possible of where we’re going,” de Blasio said.
On Thursday, Cuomo said he would not allow indoor dining to return until the city proposed an effective plan. He has suggested New York City deploy police officers to ensure compliance with safety guidelines, such as wearing masks and capacity limitations.
“I want to open the restaurants in New York City,” the governor told reporters. “The economic damage is extraordinary.”
De Blasio notes that the city will provide guidance to restaurants soon and that he is in “constant dialogue” with state officials.
Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has demanded the mayor do more to help the struggling businesses.
He released a statement saying it’s time to allow indoor dining to return to New York City, “with reduced capacity and clear guidance to ensure social distancing and safety.”
“This is crucial for restaurant owners, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting drop in tourism. Summer is winding down, and they need to begin planning for the colder months. Of course, we will continue to monitor the City’s COVID-19 rates, just as we must for all of our businesses,” Johnson said.
He said restaurants owners and their employees have been struggling for six months.
“Our restaurants and our City’s economy can’t wait,” the City Council Speaker said.
After releasing his statement, Gov. Cuomo called on Johnson to put together an NYPD Task Force, not Mayor de Blasio – but the mayor says he doesn’t feel slighted.
“He can discuss with anyone he wants to,” he said.
The mayor said the city and state work in harmony and then he refused to respond to the governor.
“I'm not going to comment on whatever the governor says on any given day,” de Blasio said.
The mayor did note, however, that the NYPD has a lot on its plate at the moment.
Restaurant owners, however, say they are struggling every day and don’t need to hear bickering between the mayor and governor – they need answers.
Stephen Oliver, who owns Chadwick Restaurant on Third Avenue in Manhattan, says he has outdoor seating, but that’s not nearly enough to keep his business afloat.
“I’ve never gone through anything like this in my life,” he told WCBS 880. “If we don’t get inside for the winter, I really feel in my heart 75 to 80%, at least, restaurants in New York City will never open again.”
He isn’t the only one who feels that way either. In fact, restaurants all over the state are struggling – even in areas where indoor dining is allowed.
According to a new study by the State Restaurant Association, nearly two-thirds of New York’s restaurants will likely close by the end of the year without government support.
"It is painfully clear that without financial assistance, the restaurant industry in New York State could collapse," said Melissa Fleischut, President & CEO of NYSRA. "These recent survey results illustrate just how dire the financial situation has become for most restaurants, and it shows how critical it is that elected officials understand the urgency of the situation."
The survey found that 63.6% of restaurants said they are likely or somewhat likely to close by the end of the year without some form of financial relief. According to the study, just 36.4% said they are likely, or somewhat likely, to remain open.
Of those who say they will likely close, 54.8% said they would be forced to shut their doors before November.
Still, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio say they are worried that a return to indoor dining will cause a spike in cases – but State Sen. Andrew Gounardes doesn’t buy it.
He says indoor dining has begun elsewhere in the Tri-State and, so far, things are okay.
“We have not seen a commensurate spike in cases anywhere across the state,” he said.
He is among the state lawmakers calling for a restaurant plan immediately.