Virus Outbreak New Jersey

A person wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus walks past shuttered businesses on the boardwalk April 28, 2020, in Atlantic City, N.J.

(The Center Square) – The New Jersey Senate Fiscal Recovery Strategists Committee heard some sobering numbers on Tuesday from businesses shut down by the state to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Automobile sales were down 50 percent in March and 70 percent to 80 percent in April, according to James Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

Retailers across the U.S. experienced a historic decline in sales, 9 percent in March and 14 percent in April, according to John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchant Association.

A group of business owners told the committee they are struggling and are not sure how they will survive much longer.

Small businesses who received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program are facing a due date at the end of the week, which “punishes states like New Jersey” that have not opened up, said Frank Rizzieri, owner of Rizzieri Spa and Salon, which has three salons and a beauty school in southern New Jersey.

New Jersey has been under a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy since March. Retailers deemed non-essential are shuttered except for curbside delivery and online sales. Hair salons and nail salons are closed. Until two weeks ago, automobile dealers could only sell online and deliver cars curbside.

The committee is tasked with developing a plan to safely reopen the state’s economy. Seventy-one businesses surveyed by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association say they can openly safely and follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the association. The problem is they don’t know when they will be allowed to open their doors.

“We need to know if we are within 10 percent of the goal post or are we still 50 percent out?” Siekerka told the committee. “No business can sit and do a business plan when you don’t know when you are opening and how you’re opening.”

What is needed is balance of metrics that includes consideration for public and economic consideration, she said. And the plan should not be a “one size fits” all, Siekerka said.

“We shouldn’t allow low-risk businesses to be waiting for the highest risk company to hit a threshold in order to open everybody,” Siekerka told the committee. “That’s where the one size fits all approach is highly inappropriate.

Any plan needs to be uniform, Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen said.

“We need to have consistency because if you don’t have consistency you are going to have people doing their own thing,” he said. “You are going to have folks putting out a picnic table in front and selling food and the poor merchant down the street that is following guidelines is going to get hurt by it. You are able to buy tools in a large, large place like a Walmart or a Home Depot but you can’t buy these tools in a small retail merchant.”

Sarlo said the committee needs to keep in mind some are predicting a second wave of the virus.

“We cannot reopen everybody just to close them down again,” said Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen. "We need to ensure that if there is a return of this virus in the fall, we are prepared, lessons learned and we take a very good assessment of the risks associated with reopening everybody.”

The committee will hear from childcare providers during a hearing on Thursday.