Pictured: The Queens Chamber of Commerce handed out PPE to business owners, residents and passersby.
BY BENJAMIN FANG
For more than a decade, Jackson Heights activist Alfonso Quiroz has pushed for sidewalk cafes in his neighborhood, but to no avail.
“You can trip over them anywhere you go in Manhattan,” he said. “But for some reason, here in Jackson Heights, and really a lot of places in Queens, do not have them.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Quiroz relaunched his advocacy for restaurants on 37th Avenue to have outdoor dining. Now that many restaurants have set up sidewalk cafes for the summer, he wants the city to allow them to stay permanently.
“We want an area where people can come out and eat safely outside while still social distancing,” he said.
Quiroz started the grassroots group 37th Avenue Sidewalk Cafe Coalition, made up of local merchants and residents. He created accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
On the coalition’s social media pages, restaurants can find out the latest information about rules and regulations. Residents can also find news about local restaurant openings, specials or menus.
Quiroz said businesses along 37th Avenue have faced some difficulty adjusting to new regulations, early on when they were in flux. He also noted that restaurants that were affected by the pandemic were short on cash.
“A lot of these small businesses do not have any money left over,” he said. “To create something like this costs $10,000. It’s not cheap to pull this all together.”
On July 30, the 37th Avenue Sidewalk Cafe Coalition teamed up with the Queens Chamber of Commerce to hand out masks, gloves and face shields to local businesses in front of Hombres Lounge in Jackson Heights. They also distributed the personal protective equipment (PPE) to residents and passersby as well.
The coalition founder said he’s worked with the chamber in the past, so when he called to ask about a collaboration, they did not hesitate to accept.
In addition to handing out PPE, Quiroz collected signatures for a petition to make the sidewalk cafes on 37th Avenue permanent. He has already collected hundreds of signatures, including on an online petition.
Although the city officials he has pitched the idea to “seem to be receptive,” Quiroz said the “devil is in the details.” In the meantime, before the sidewalk cafes are taken away in the fall, the local activist wants to build enough momentum, and have enough signatures, to take the idea to the mayor.
“We need to build a little bit of momentum, which we’ve been doing so far, so it’s been good,” he said.
Quiroz noted that not only are building and installing sidewalk cafes expensive, but also time consuming. He said he wants the city to lower the cots “down to the minimum,” while also cutting red tape to ensure the process is easier for small businesses.
Most of the small businesses along the 37th Avenue commercial corridor are not large chains, he said, but rather immigrant-owned enterprises.
“They came here, they wanted to make something of their lives and now they’re being squeezed out by the virus,” Quiroz said. “We need to have a better dialogue with small businesses to try to help them out, and not make it so difficult for them to succeed. That’s all we’re saying.”