Restaurants lining the streets of the East Village bustled with activity toward the end of last year. But the slew of hungry shoppers has died down since the start of 2018 — proving that even New York City isn’t exempt from the annual dip in business known as the “January slump.” Even during peak weekend business hours, local village businesses see empty restaurant tables and a lack of customers perusing storefronts.
Salil Mathew, co-owner of Ummburger on First Avenue, said he has been hit especially hard by the dip. Mathew and his partner Jose Philipose’s first restaurant has recently seen more slow days than busy ones. After opening in September of last year to a reassuring wave of customers, their business has taken a serious hit since the tail end of the holiday season.
Mathew has employed numerous tactics to combat the recent business slowdown. Mathew and his staff come up with creative specials for each day of the week and draw them up on a chalkboard outside the restaurant in hopes of attracting wandering eyes. However, he is not the only restaurateur trying this — such chalkboard sign are ubiquitous throughout the neighborhood, and often aren’t enough to draw customers.
He put out a 40 percent discount coupon for students in Campus Clipper magazine after the holidays, aiming to attract local college students in the hope they would return later, paying full price.
Because of the dip, Mathew has been forced to lay off employees, and by his estimation, has had to cut work hours by as much as 50 percent. Balancing a new restaurant, a second job as a nurse manager and a family, Mathew hopes his steep discounts will bring him a much-needed break.
Other, more seasoned businesses have contingency plans for the yearly dip. Saulo Abrau, a worker at Al Horno on First Avenue, mans a cash register in the Mexican restaurant which is often devoid of patrons.
While bagging up delivery orders, he slips a printed menu containing the restaurant’s hours and location into every outgoing meal. Al Horno’s management hopes that these slips will bring customers back to the restaurant next time they decide to eat out.
“We order boxes of these,” Abrau said.
Although Al Horno’s counter was covered in yet-to-be-delivered meals, Abrau is still feeling the effects of the slump. Without customers dining inside the restaurant, workers rarely receive tips and go home with less pay.
Retail stores weren’t spared either. Matt Diaz, of i-vape on St. Mark’s Place said that while the store had been packed during the holiday season, now, it often sits empty. The business relies largely on Instagram marketing and flash sales to get it through the rough time of year.
While many workers affected by the post-holiday slump feel down, some retain a positive attitude. Salman Asim of Pak Punjab Deli & Grocery on Second Avenue, while acknowledging the decline in business, does not seem concerned.
“We just wait for good times,” Asim said with a smile.
Email George Campbell at [email protected]