When Emmanuel DeJesus opened Furman’s Coffee Shop in Brooklyn in 2017, he hoped to share his love of coffee with others. DeJesus grew up helping his grandmother on her coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic. DeJesus said, “Every morning when we got up, we were still roasting coffee beans and cocoa to make chocolate.” “The scent of coffee roasting just stayed with me.”
The coffee connoisseur recalls fondly the memory of brewing coffee when it was more labor-intensive. “You must choose the appropriate beans from the tree. Then take them to a sunny location to dry them out and start the skin peeling process,” DeJesus explained. “Because there is a lot of sugar on the beans, they will be washed and then dried. Since they didn’t have the equipment back then, it was a long and drawn-out process.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, his labour of love has turned to desperation, with DeJesus amassing a debt of more than $500,000, leaving him barely able to keep his shop open. Since having to lay off his staff, he works almost 90 hours a week to keep afloat. “I began with nine employees in 2020. I had to fire four of our employees at the end of February because profits had plummeted,” DeJesus explained. “People were no longer driving to work. Then, in March of 2020, I was essentially working alone in the coffee shop because the rest of the team no longer felt safe coming to work.”
Many of Furman’s frequent customers have relocated out of the area, resulting in a significant drop in foot traffic. Some people have lost their jobs or can no longer afford to live here, he said. DeJesus’ tale, on the other hand, isn’t new. After the outbreak, more than 70% of black business owners have expressed concern that they would not be able to survive without assistance. According to a survey conducted by LISC NYC, over 130 minority-owned small businesses claim they will close permanently unless they obtain financial assistance.
While the New York State budget included a $800 million COVID-19 stimulus package, most business owners agree that any money they receive would not cover debt accrued due to the lack of aid in the previous year.
Many markets have been hard hit by the pandemic, forcing company owners to diversify their revenue streams. In addition to accepting online orders and serving food, Furman’s Coffee also sells plants and offers customers the option of placing kerbside orders via Instagram.
However, DeJesus claims that the only way he’ll be able to get relief is if foot traffic increases and the city provides financial assistance.
“It’s the only way we’ll be able to survive,” DeJesus said, “because even when foot traffic returns, I don’t know how we’ll be able to pay back all the debt that I accrued during the last 15 months of the pandemic.”
DeJesus is hoping that as vaccinations advance and the city prepares for a grand reopening this summer, foot traffic will rise enough to keep things going. He also intends to launch a GoFundMe campaign to assist with debt relief.
But his message was clear: consumers should help local businesses; otherwise, who knows how many will be left standing in a few months.