Photo: David Westenhaver. Residents in The Hub. 

Low vaccination rates and new COVID restrictions pose challenges for borough businesses

Some businesses in the South Bronx are finding that two new Covid-related policies are hurting their profits—the expiration of certain unemployment benefits and the requirement that some customers show proof of vaccination. 

The expiration of federal unemployment benefits from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act has decreased the discretionary income for many would-be shoppers and patrons. Around 800,000 New Yorkers lost federal benefits September 5, according to the Center for New York City Affairs. 

Jay Jiang, the owner of Virgin Hair Outlet in Mott Haven, said business at his store has been at least 30% slower since benefits expired on September 5th. He doesn’t think fear of COVID-19 virus is to blame – instead, it’s the disappearance of pandemic-era jobless benefits.

“When they have the money, it’s not too bad. When people have the money, they come out and spend it,” Jiang said.

And even when customers have the means and are willing to spend, some businesses have had to turn them away if they can’t show proof of vaccination. 

The Key To NYC mandate that took full effect Sept. 13 requires businesses that provide indoor dining, fitness and entertainment to check all those who enter for proof of vaccination and bar those who cannot show it.  Non-compliant businesses are subjected to a fine of $1,000, according to the city.

Eduardo Cuaya noticed a significant drop in the number of customers at Coffee Delight Diner since New York City’s proof of vaccination mandate went into effect. 

Cueva, who began working as a chef at the Mott Haven diner three months ago, has seen people turned away at the door.

“We’re losing a lot of customers because sometimes they forget or maybe they haven’t been vaccinated,” Cuaya said.

As of Sept. 27, 63% of South Bronx residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with 70% of the rest of New Yorkers. Additionally, 54% of South Bronx residents are fully vaccinated, compared to New York City’s median of 64%.

Cary Goodman, executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, thinks restaurants in the Bronx are mostly following the mandate. 

“I bet you we have pretty close to 100% compliance rates,” he said, noting that it is in business owners’ best interest to comply because that’s what their customers now expect. 

“People who care about it, which is the overwhelming majority of their customers, are just going to go somewhere else where there’s the appropriate level of compliance,” he said.

Small businesses with questions about Key to NYC can call a city hotline at 888-727-4692 or visit 


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