Kew Gardens Hills and the surrounding neighborhoods have been the subject of shutdowns and restrictions over the last number of weeks. As has been well publicized, these “red zones” were in predominantly Orthodox Jewish areas in a target from the presiding New York governor against these communities. The mandate caused those business operations deemed nonessential to shut down, a major blow, especially to those unable to conduct online sales. The current trajectory predicts that the entire New York City will fall into an orange zone by the beginning of December. For the time being, much of the surrounding local areas fall into a yellow zone. Hence, many customers are often still reluctant to go out and shop.

A special initiative dubbed #RiseUpRedZone has been launched to help local businesses fight through the pandemic and come out ahead. A short walk on Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills shows a few businesses that have sadly closed their operations during this difficult period. But together, the neighborhood can fight back to keep our local operators afloat. Shopping local has never been more important to our community, and the stores are counting on the residents to patronize and support their efforts. Throughout the pandemic, the government often decided what was deemed essential; today, advocating for local businesses is what is essential in our lives, or they will cease to exist.

We can easily have made this article about those who have seen their life’s work been decimated, especially during the last uptick, but instead we bring forward the work of a local politician and community activist who have shown how a community helps the small businesses gasping for air. The duo, Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal and Queens Jewish Alliance for Action co-founder Sorelle Idels, set out along Main Street, visiting local shops to show support to the small business community. They distributed face masks and hand sanitizer to the local vendors and reminded the community of the dire need to shop local and help the struggling storeowners. From Men’s Famous Barbershop and Blooming Flowers to Gift World Judaica and J&Z Couture, the pair spread smiles and received calls for help from the community they hold so dear.

It is no secret that the online market has been booming to a degree not seen prior. “Rise Up, Red Zone” aims to show that funding large corporations means there will no longer be local businesses for local families. The shopping strips of Main Street, Union Turnpike, 108th Street, and Queens Boulevard, to name a few, are the financial infrastructure that keeps our Queens communities thriving. One local tax preparation business owner pointed out, “Our neighbors must keep their money where their homes are, or there just will not be a community left in a few years.”

Restaurant owners are adhering to current closing times and keep takeout open a bit later, per government regulations. “We are happy to have our doors open to whatever extent it may be allowed. I am declining to provide my name for this message, because I speak for all small business owners who have been at wits’ end, many barely holding on by a thread,” explained one eatery owner. In a desperate plea, the proprietor added, signaling a nearby, empty, outdoor dining area, “If you have the means, please come out and grab a bite to eat in our shops; we are literally choking.”

A “Rise Up, Red Zone” partner, the Who We Are Network (@whoweare613 on Twitter), aims to spotlight the kindness, unity, and heroism in the Jewish Community by sharing and amplifying the good that happens each day, often quietly in the background. “The Network highlights many noble acts of positivity and heroism that personify and define our Orthodox Jewish community,” read a late April Twitter posting. The Queens program follows a similar program initiated by community activist Chaskel Bennett, a cofounder of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition and a brother of Mrs. Idels.

Other business owners voiced concerns that they may soon have to start repaying their Payment Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan disbursements. “To be frank, we are treading in very uncertain waters, and I am preparing to lay off more than one worker,” lamented a businessowner who also opted to withhold his name out of embarrassment. “We just do not have the same customer flow as Purim time,” he concluded. It should be noted that some stores fought the strict guidelines by staying open only to receive a hefty summons, warranted or not. More stores are struggling than may meet the eye.

Queens prides itself on its diversity, and as such we have a collection of store owners from all sects of the Jewish spectrum. Let us be the voice for these grappling businessmen and women and show some kindness by skipping an online order and heading to a local shop instead. Enjoy their offerings and partake in the ability to see and touch what you are seeking to purchase. Commit to shopping local this Chanukah, and support our neighbors who have borne the brunt of the pandemic restrictions, and help them from declaring bankruptcy by re-establishing themselves as community anchors.

Be on the lookout for the “We Are A Proud #RiseUpRedZone Business!” flyers in local stores.

By Shabsie Saphirstein