NYC restaurants: Give us indoor dining or we’ll sue

Mayor de Blasio hints that bars and eateries must wait for a vaccine

Andrew Rigie with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Twitter, Getty, iStock)
Andrew Rigie with Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Twitter, Getty, iStock)

Restaurant owners are fed up with the ban on indoor dining and they’re ready to take action.

In a press conference Wednesday, the NYC Hospitality Alliance threatened to sue the city or state, stating that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are unlawfully discriminating against restaurants in the city.

While the rest of the state partakes in indoor dining at 50 percent of capacity, that has been postponed indefinitely in the city. Asked Tuesday when it might be allowed, de Blasio said, “The most important thing … is to get to the point where we have a vaccine and then we can really come back. But we’re going to be very, very careful.”

An effective vaccine could be months or years away, if it arrives at all. Many of the city’s 27,000 restaurants have already closed, and those owners hanging on are worried they might not survive the winter.

“All options, including all legal options, are on the table,” said Robert Bookman, the general and legislative counsel for the NYC Hospitality Alliance said during the press conference.

The warning comes two days after bowling alleys were allowed to reopen and a day after the state announced a blueprint for gyms to reopen (those in the city will have to wait until at least Sept. 2, the mayor said Tuesday). The restaurant trade group noted that the decision on fitness centers was made after thousands of gym owners filed a class-action lawsuit against Cuomo.

“We want to work collaboratively with Governor Cuomo, with Mayor de Blasio,” said Andrew Rigie, the alliance’s executive director.

Throughout the press conference, restaurant owners expressed their financial need for indoor dining, especially with winter on the horizon.

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Blair Papagni, who had to shutter one of her restaurants, said she’s struggled to pay rent on her other location because of the lack of indoor dining.

“A lot of our landlords really are decent people that deserve to get paid,” Papagni said. “Unfortunately right now I can’t afford to pay rent. I really wish that I could.”

In July, 83 percent of bars and restaurants did not pay full rent and 37 percent paid no rent at all, according to a survey of 471 establishments by the trade group.

While it’s unknown how many of the city’s 27,000 restaurants in the city have closed, Rigie said that the number is in the thousands. He called the current situation a “commercial rent crisis.”

Dr. Jay Varma, a senior health adviser to the mayor, said Tuesday that restaurants present a risk because mask-wearing is limited and virus particles are not rapidly dispersed indoors. “When you look at the data really from across the world, there is no doubt, one very common setting in which infections occur — and not just individual infections, but what we call super spreading events where one person can transmit to five, 10, 15, or 20 people – and those are settings where there was indoor dining and drinking,” he said at the mayor’s press conference.

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