It’s no secret that businesses all around the world have been adversely affected by the global pandemic. Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, has been no exception to the issues businesses have faced throughout the quarantine period up until now.
To begin with, Dario, owner of Dario’s Tex Mex located on Academy Street, expressed that the downtown Newark area has generally been emptier, losing some of the customers who would regularly be walking around. According to Dario, there are businesses that “are not being occupied until possibly January,” he recognized that “it’s all very cognitive.” The restaurant stands under a twenty-four story building that is undergoing renovations, another completely empty edifice in the city.
In order to their response to the “new normal,” Dario has been continuously planning for the next phase since reopening. “We have added signs, we have rearranged our stations, we have social distancing in place, we have been taking our temperatures,” he stated. More importantly, he said that “if I didn’t make [delivery an option] in the beginning of the pandemic, we probably would have been closed now.”
Intrinsic Café, located on Sussex Avenue, is a coffeehouse that depends mostly on the student population. General Manager Claude-Alix Hage said, “given that the campus population has been drastically reduced, the result is a reduction in traffic.” The café is operating at limited capacity, with less staff, meaning that business is operating about 50% lower than it was prior to the hit of the virus.
“We are still maintaining strict policies about wearing masks when inside the store and we mostly continue to do outdoor seating as the primary dining mode. We continue to clean and disinfect as frequently as possible all high point of contact surface areas, as well as the dining tables and chairs,” Hage mentioned. The café has also become more present on online platforms in order to “fill in the gap that has been left by the lower foot traffic.”
Sigri BBQ, on University Avenue, features an Indian cuisine. According to the co-owner, Utkarsh Yadav, the business has decreased by 63%, which, like Intrinsic Café, includes a loss of students visiting prior to the pandemic.
Over the summer, Sigri BBQ restaurant was involved with Newark Working Kitchens (NWK), an initiative that was launched by Newark-based Audible, an online audiobook and podcast platform company, in the spring of this year. One million dollars was donated by Audible to World Central Kitchen, in order to broaden its efforts in Newark. The primary purpose of this collaboration was to provide a free, daily meal delivery service for Newark residents, additionally activating local restaurants and sustaining jobs for employees.
Yadav has shown great appreciation for this considerate measure: “NWK has been a savior in this scenario. Without it, we would have not been able to survive.” He also said that he is “thankful to the Newark community for supporting us.”
Program Director of Jersey Cares’ Care of the Park, Dana Wise, facilitates volunteers who physically attend to and help maintain Branch Brook Park. The park has seen a decline in attendance, just as almost all businesses have seen, but the park has primarily been suffering from a decline in the number of volunteers. In previous years, the park had seen large groups of volunteers as a part of a corporate day of service from downtown Newark companies. However, due to the pandemic, that was not feasible this year. “We were happy to see that once it was allowed, families from the community started volunteering and came back for recurring service days,” said Wise.
Although the number of volunteers has been down, there has been an increase in the number of people visiting the park for personal purposes. According to Wise, “what we have seen is more recurring numbers, so we’ve seen families, church groups and those kinds of crowds that have been coming more often… Before, we would have larger groups at once, but they would usually return for more than one day.”
She mentioned that the closing of gyms and fitness centers made outdoor spaces like parks generally more attractive choices for where people from the community could work out and exercise. In response to this, the park had offered a new free-of-charge yoga class for the public, which has shown to be a popular selection based on the relatively high participation rates.
In order to make sure that the virus does not spread quickly, the park has taken several measures with regard to the public’s health. In the event that it has large groups of volunteers, “which we’ve maybe had two in the last three months,” the crowd is divided into smaller sections. Wearing a mask has also been a required aspect of working in the park. Wise said that “If anyone needs to go into the restroom building, we only have a maximum of three inside at a time. We’re keeping the doors open if people have to be inside. We are disinfecting with hospital grade solution all of our surfaces and all of the tools that are used by volunteers.”
One of the business models that was considered and altered was how a park conservancy would still be effectively supported remotely. “We decided to completely reconstruct the website and relaunch all of the social media channels so that once we were able to get back into the landscape, we had more of an online presence,” Wise explained.
Overall, she is pleased with the amount of support the park has been getting from the Newark community and is looking forward to inviting volunteers from college organizations that have since returned to campus.