African American Studies
Summarized by Alan C. Ventura
Maribel Gonzalez is a small business owner in the Bronx and serves as sole operator of The South of France restaurant. As part of the Bronx COVID-19 Oral History Project, she sits with Fordham University senior Bethany Fernandez to share her experience of running a business during the pandemic.
Gonzalez reflects on how her business has progressed along with COVID-19 protocols since her first interview in June 2020. She discusses the ongoing challenges of running a business during the pandemic, with uncertainty and financial struggles continuing to persist with the passage of time. The flow of income brought in by The South of France remains inconsistent due to COVID-19 restrictions, despite new allowances like 25% indoor seating.
Gonzalez reiterates the challenges of operating a restaurant during the pandemic, including the need to buy ingredients in smaller quantities more frequently, leading to higher costs. Furthermore, she explains that, because of the pandemic, it has become harder to find essential items like hand sanitizer and masks due to increased demand and limited availability. Much of Gonzalez’ consternation stems from a lack of support in providing these supplies from the city—the very entity enforcing these requirements. Other factors like the plastic bag ban and the necessity to invest in heating supplies due to changing weather conditions have proved to apply more of a strain on small businesses.
A general lack of clear communication and consistent guidelines from the city is causing frustration and challenges for small businesses. Expanding outdoor seating, as an example, has also been a problem for Gonzalez due not only to high costs and logistical issues in finding quality furniture but also to the need to comply with city barricading guidelines. Small business owners are feeling overwhelmed and uncertain due to frequent changes in guidelines and requirements, leading to investment in other resources for information and support. These twists and turns have taken an immense financial and emotional toll on Gonzalez as she struggles to keep herself and her employees financially stable.
Gonzalez stresses the importance of enforcing mask-wearing and social distancing rules within her place of business. She opines on the challenges of enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols in her restaurant, including dealing with customers who don't follow the rules and the threat of large fines for non-compliance. In spite of this, she maintains a positive attitude and hope during the trying times—even when facing issues with frustrated customers not adhering to COVID-19 guidelines.
In the midst of all of the challenges, Gonzalez continues to operate The South of France in the hopes that things will get better. She encourages everyone to support their local businesses and to uplift one another as we all collectively navigate through these difficult times.
Naison, Mark, "Maribel Gonzalez Interview Part 2" (2023). Oral Histories. 353.