Covid-19 hurt many small businesses. For some entrepreneurs, it opened doors.

In a year marked by uncertainty and fear, some New York City entrepreneurs decided it was worth the risk of opening a store.

The cost of the pandemic to New York City small businesses has been severe. In Brooklyn, Chamber of Commerce President Randy Peers estimated that between a fifth and a third of small businesses have closed, depending on the neighborhood. In lower Manhattan, more than 160 retail businesses, 12% of the total, have closed permanently, according to the Downtown Alliance, a local business group.

But the struggles of some companies have presented opportunities for startups. Landlords reluctant to let storefronts run empty are offering more affordable leases, and increased stress over the past year has led to increased demand for services like facials and guided meditation, business owners said. Some entrepreneurs, laid off themselves at the beginning of the pandemic, decided to pursue their dreams of owning their own businesses.

These are the stories of five startups, one in each municipality, that opened during the pandemic:

Sisters Carla Nelson and Wendy Jules opened Fleur De Lis Beauty & Esthetics last July. Your spa is reserved until June.

A Spa in Brooklyn

Sisters and registered nurses Carla Nelson, 36, and Wendy Jules, 39, opened the doors of Fleur De Lis Beauty & Esthetics on Flatbush Avenue last July. The spa, which offers services like chemical peels, intravenous hydration, facials and Botox, was quickly flooded with customers. They are now reserved until June.

Ms. Nelson and her sister credit their rapid success with strong support from the Midwood community and social media marketing. They also opened a few months after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, and said customers were eager to support black-owned businesses.

Still, they had a hard time accessing capital when starting out and now looking to expand. The big banks turned them down and the only loan they managed to get was $ 3,000 from a local black-owned bank. The sisters have invested their life savings in the business and turned to friends and family, including Ms. Nelson’s husband, who emptied his 401 (k).

“We have the skills, we just don’t have the funds,” Ms. Nelson said. “That is our number one challenge, and our only challenge.”

A barbershop in Queens

José Campos, 39, was fired from a Manhattan retail store at the start of the pandemic. For a couple of months he cooked and sold traditional Salvadoran food from his apartment. It was a skill he learned as a child, when he accompanied his mother on her rounds selling tamales from a supermarket cart on the streets of Maryland, where the family lived after emigrating from El Salvador.

Mr. Campos has always wanted to own his own business and decided to do business with his barber. The partners quickly found an affordable location on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside and opened Bibi & JD’s Barbershop last September.


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Six months later, the company is paying its bills but without making a profit. Attracting customers is a big challenge, Campos said.

“There is still a lot of fear in the Covid community,” he said.

Campos, who is in training to receive his barber license, recently sold part of his stake to his partner and opened a small clothing store within the barbershop, which he hopes will generate more income. He is behind on his apartment rent and said stress has caused him to lose weight and sleep.

You are thinking of selling food from your apartment to earn additional income. Her mother, feeling she needed support, flew in a month ago from her home in Houston and is ready to start making large batches of tamales.

José Campos puts up a sign for Bibi and JD’s Barbershop when the store opens in Woodside, Queens.

A Thai restaurant in Manhattan

Sommy Putthida, 35, moved to New York City to live with her family last spring after she was fired from her job at a tech startup in San Francisco. Her cousin took her to the Pro Thai restaurant on Lexington Avenue, and she found out through a local Thai Facebook group that the owners wanted to sell.

“I saw it as an opportunity,” he said.

He bought the business for $ 100,000 using his savings and money that he borrowed from his family. It reopened under the new ownership in late May, and Putthida has focused on digital marketing and strengthening Pro Thai’s online ordering platform. It built outdoor seating with the help of a New York City Economic Development Corporation program that works with partners to provide free design services to small businesses.

He has managed to keep all the employees at the previous owner’s East Harlem restaurant on his payroll, but not all of them work full time. He hasn’t paid the rent in four months and may have to take out a loan to keep the business afloat, he said.

Business Services in the Bronx

Alicia Corso, 36, spent four years earning her accounting degree while working as a tax associate at a tax preparation firm and as an office manager at a personal injury law firm. He realized that in working-class communities, particularly where many people speak English as a second language, there was a need for ad hoc business and tax services.

“Not everyone can afford to have an accountant,” Corso said.

He saw a real estate opportunity when he learned that the owner of his daughter’s salon in Morris Park was going bankrupt. The owner did not want the space to remain empty, and Ms. Corso and her three partners were able to secure a good lease.

AYAM Multiservices offers business and tax services in the Bronx. Alicia Corso and her partners got a good deal on the lease.

In January, Ms. Corso opened AYAM Multiservices on White Plains Road. The company offers services such as tax preparation, notarization and translation – Ms. Corso is fluent in Spanish and her partners speak Arabic. His biggest focus right now is getting customers.

“Little by little, it’s starting to get better,” he said.

A wellness center on Staten Island

Cheryl Lafer, 40, had been thinking about opening a comprehensive wellness center in 2019 and even designed the logo, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit and she saw so many people suffering from stress and anxiety that she decided to pull the trigger. He found a basement space on Lamberts Lane in the Mid-Island neighborhood and opened Heal & Prosper Holistic Wellness NYC last July.

The company’s services include reiki, guided meditation, yoga, sound baths, and wellness training. The business is profitable and Ms. Lafer is looking for a larger space and plans to add services that include facials and halotherapy, which is a salt room that Lafer says provides respiratory benefits.

“We are having growing pains,” he said.

She attributes her success in part to social media marketing and a strong demand for pampering after a rough year.

“The root cause of our customers’ arrival is stress,” Lafer said. “We offer help with healing, self-care and self-esteem, and that’s what people need right now.”

Cheryl Lafer says strong demand for pampering after a rough year has helped boost business at Heal & Prosper Holistic Wellness NYC in Staten Island.

Write to Kate King at [email protected]

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