Local businesses struggle amid pandemic


Ahden Islam

East Way Deli, a popular destination among Friends Seminary students, has struggled through the pandemic.

Bella García-Peña and Abby Hahn

Social distancing restrictions have affected local restaurants and delis in the East Village neighborhood around Friends Seminary. Restaurants, including Third Avenue’s ramen and gelato spot Camellia, have been forced to close temporarily. East Way Gourmet and Joe Juniors – two popular spots among Friends Seminary students – have also suffered economic hardships. 

East Way Gourmet, a go-to spot for Friends Students, has been struggling as many students – primarily those in the Friends upper school – have largely stopped going to school.  Mike Maliche, the owner of East Way, said that the lack of students in the area has impacted business. “It’s not good. Business is very slow,” he said. “My business depends on schools around fifty-percent.”

East Way received support last year from the CARES Act – a stimulus bill that supported small businesses. But the loan only went so far. As Congress continues to debate a new bill, small businesses like East Way have been on their own. “The government helped us, gave us a loan, but the loan finished,” Maliche said. 

There are also restrictions to limit the number of people entering and leaving East Way Gourmet. Maliche explained that this has impacted how many customers he receives. The safety of others is important to Maliche, though – he has relationships with his customers, and they need to stay safe to support his business.   “We have to be careful and safe, and healthy because if you’re not healthy, we have no business,” he said.  

East Way’s long-lasting customer relationships have also been interrupted by the pandemic. Business has slowed as many of the deli’s local customers have left the city, or seem to go out less.  “A lot of customers, they moved out. A lot of customers are really scared,” he said. 

Maliche said that his connections with people who work in nearby stores and restaurants have also been impacted. He notes the overall surroundings and environment have changed as more restaurants have closed. “We are here 27 years, and we get used to help each other, be with each other,” he said.

A cook at Joe Juniors – another restaurant popular among Friends students – explained that they have also lost customers because of the pandemic. Due to their losses, they have had trouble paying rent. “The landlords, they don’t agree with the rent. We can pay half, but they want full,” the cook said.

With the combination of slow business and high rent, the owners of Joe Juniors question if they can remain open. “How are we gonna pay the rent?” the cook said. “Maybe we can agree…  to pay half rent. That way we can stay open.” 

These local restaurants have been greatly impacted during this challenging time. As they continue to wait on a stimulus bill, and for students to return to school, they may continue to struggle. “It’s not good,” Maliche said. “Hopefully once we get a vaccine, things will go back. That’s our hope so far.”