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Central Square Shops Struggle with 'Paralyzing' COVID-19 Economic Losses in New Report

A new report suggested economic losses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic will impair business in Central Square.
A new report suggested economic losses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic will impair business in Central Square. By Sara Komatsu
By Simon J. Levien, Crimson Staff Writer

Sixty percent of surveyed Central Square businesses will not survive another eight weeks under the current economic strain brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent study.

The District Impact Study, released by the Central Square Business Improvement District on Sunday, aimed to quantify the “damage to-date” wrought by the virus. Fifty-one CSBID member businesses and organizations participated in the survey.

The businesses reported varying degrees of economic impact: sales losses, staffing issues, layoffs, cancellations, investments to accommodate new safety protocols, and even closed doors.

The pain was nearly universal among respondents; 96 percent said they have felt the effects of COVID-19 on their establishment.

In the report, owners shared serious business woes. Jonathan Mendez, co-founder of the Saloniki Greek chain, which has a location in Harvard Square, called the virus’s impact “paralyzing” in the report.

“It’s not a snowstorm, it’s not some event that can be ‘stopped,’ we don’t know when it will be over,” he said in the report.

The survey found that 72 percent of respondents are waiting on further directions from local and state governments on whether to remain open.

On Sunday, Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 ordered all dine-in restaurants to close for a month, but some Central Square businesses closed before then amid COVID-19 fears.

Adam J. Penn, co-owner of Veggie Galaxy — which suspended operations prior to Baker’s announcement — said in an interview that the idea of remaining open “made us very uncomfortable.”

“We’d rather be a part of the solution,” Penn said. “So we made the call early. It was hard.”

In the report, CSBID Executive Director Michael Monestime urged the closure of all non-essential businesses and called for immediate financial aid from the city government. He also made a series of “emergency relief recommendations,” including establishing a relief fund for businesses, waiving meals and sales taxes, and protecting local tenants from eviction.

The report also includes numerous public health recommendations, such as providing hygiene packs to the homeless and creating public hand-washing stations.

Some stores that rely on public gatherings for large sales boosts have taken a particularly big hit. Heartbreak Hill Running Company, which expected to see a bump from the Boston Marathon, could lose “$200,000 to $300,000” as a result of the pandemic, according to owner Justin Burdon.

The Boston Athletic Association recently rescheduled the annual event for September.

Steve Adelson, owner of Teddy Shoes — a family-run store specializing in dance wear that has operated in Central Square for 63 years — shared similar sentiments in the report.

“The dropoff is alarming,” Adelson said in the report. “We can’t stay in business if no one comes in.”

Other business owners said they had initially attempted to continue operating under social distancing guidelines, but eventually had no choice but to shut down indefinitely.

Dennis J. Silva, general manager of Miracle of Science Bar and Grill, detailed new safety measures the restaurant had implemented in a Wednesday interview, including increased sterilization efforts and the removal of salt and pepper shakers from tables. But even with these measures, Miracle of Science since closed its doors indefinitely.

Other Cambridge neighborhoods are also feeling the effects of the pandemic. The Porter Square Neighbors Association postponed its Thursday meeting this week over outbreak concerns; the Kendall Square Association announced that all of its events will move online.

Despite the gloomy prospects for many businesses, some respondents to the CSBID survey remained hopeful about possible governmental relief. As of Wednesday evening, Congress and the White House continue to negotiate possible stimulus funds for individuals and small businesses.

“All indications are that there will be some sort of government intervention,” Penn said. “We're anxiously waiting to see what that will be.”

“It’s really going to be up to the community,” Silva said.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

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