In this June 28, 2015 file photo, participants carry a rainbow-colored flag down Fifth Avenue in New York during the Heritage Pride March in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
June 3, 2020
The Brooklyn Pride Parade is normally big business for George Constantinou, who owns three sit-down restaurants in the borough, but this year, like so many other public events, the annual celebration is canceled due to coronavirus.
This leaves LGBTQ-friendly businesses like Constantinou's Bogota Latin Bistro in Park Slope or the newer Miti Miti Modern Mexican just across 5th Avenue with one less major revenue stream amid an already dire economic climate for restaurants and bars.
"Business is down 50 percent at the full-service Brooklyn restaurants," Constantinou said, adding that just 50 employees remain from the 130 who worked for him before the crisis.
The connection to Pride, however, isn't just a one-day thing for Constantinou. His restaurants' statuses as LGBTQ-friendly businesses have helped them stay afloat during the shutdown. Without walk-in diners, business has shifted to loyal customers willing to order pickup or delivery from their favorite places.
"People do want to go out and support their businesses, especially LGBTQ-friendly businesses that people feel comfortable at, that they want to see still there when it's all said and done," Constantinou said.
As Pride month gets underway, LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-friendly businesses are banking on this support to survive the shutdown.
"We've been heavily pushing the idea that every dollar you spend with an LGBT business helps all of us come out of the COVID economic crisis even stronger," said Jonathan Lovitz, vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
The "pink dollar," as Lovitz calls it, represents $917 billion in spending power every year, and a lot of that money is being channeled back into businesses that show their support.
In general, Lovitz said, the LGBTQ community is among the most loyal with its money. More than 50 percent of its purchasing decisions are based on whether a brand engages with the community, according to a 2015 Google Consumer Survey.
Pride events are often an opportunity to prove that commitment, but this year, as the celebration moves online in the form of digital gatherings, businesses are hoping customers remember their track record and make an effort to support them.
"Folks are eating food and drinking liquor that are being sourced from LGBT-owned vendors from around the country," Lovitz said. "If we can't physically be together to celebrate, we can put our money to good use to help us stay strong, keep our businesses strong, and keep the employees of those businesses employed through Pride season and through the long recovery ahead."
He added that the Chamber has had a surge in inquiries and searches in recent months for businesses that fit the bill.
For Constantinou, maintaining that connection is a big reason why he's chosen to stay open through the pandemic, even when the business case for doing so is sometimes harder to make.
It might not make financial sense in the moment, but stay open because your community needs you.
"Just stay open," he said. "It might not make financial sense in the moment, but stay open because your community needs you. They want you there. They want to support you. There are so many days where I'm like 'wow, does it make sense to open?' Then all of a sudden, the next day will be a great business day."
What the longer-term impact will be on LGBTQ businesses is difficult to determine. Like so much of the service industry, Constantinou's restaurants can only endure so long at 50 percent or less of their former revenues.
Constantinou said labor costs have been particularly high relative to revenue, but right now a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan is helping meet those costs.
"I don't know how I'm going to be able to sustain this once PPP is done operating at the same sales we're at," he said. "Eventually the money is going to run out."
Lovitz, meanwhile, is confident in the resilience of LGBTQ businesses and the communities that support them.
"The LGBT community has faced disease before. We have faced efforts to keep us marginalized and pushed out of neighborhoods before, and it's never worked," he said. "So as we come out of this crisis, I think we're going to see a renewed sense of community."