Governor Cuomo is reopening indoor dining at half capacity in regions across upstate New York. This popped off just weeks after 100 upstate restaurants jointly SUED New York State for discrimination. Using NYS’s own data, they proved that restaurants and bars accounted for only 1.4  percent of COVID-19 cases. The bulk of the spread came from small, indoor gatherings with an insane 75 percent transmission rate.

Aaron Ho, co-founder of Sour Mouse, a Billiard and social club in the Lower East Side shares below what it’s been like for affected businesses.

Sour Mouse was slated to open on April 15, 2020. Due to COVID-19, businesses shut down and our doors did not open. The launch was on pause, and we remained closed for six straight months until October 3rd when phase 3 of reopening procedures went into effect. In 2020, my business venture; a social club and billiards hall operated for only 14 weeks out of the year. 

Nestled in the heart of the Lower East Side, Sour Mouse is a destination that welcomes nostalgia. It prompts you to put down your phone and enjoy a variety of recreational activities. From the physical space and its fixtures to games, music, and entertainment, the concept I wanted to create was a nouveau social environment that’s perfect for meeting friends, spending quality time with family, and creating the party of a lifetime. A hub of fun for the community and tourists.

From Hong Kong to the Lower East Side

My parents migrated from Hong Kong in the ’70s, and I was born and raised on the Lower East Side. Eventually, I ventured over to the UWS and attended John Jay College. From there, my masters and Ph.D. in Criminal Justice brought me to New Jersey and Rutgers University. In 2016, when I became an entrepreneur and opened my first business venture I wanted to stick to my LES roots. I was already closely connected to the community and opened a coffee shop.  It quickly became a hip destination and a fixture in the vibrant Lower East Side. 

Bar/restaurants only account for 1.4% of all COVID-19 transmissions

Leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, when the second shutdown was mandated by the city, I think many business owners in hospitality were appalled, discouraged, and not prepared. They were also not financially equipped. Bar/restaurants only account for 1.5% of all COVID-19 transmissions—so, the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime, We have all felt the wrath and financial consequences of two city-wide shutdowns, but the hospitality industry defines New York City and supports hundreds of thousands of local jobs. 

Based on my experience as a business owner, I fit into a certain category that will not get financial support from the city. It’s frustrating because I can personally apply for a loan but I feel that any establishment, new, or old – any business that facilitates what has made NYC a hub of eclectic dining, entertainment, nightlife, music, and more deserves some type of relief- regardless of years in business, fiscal equity, and reputation of being highly altruistic and socially responsible. 

Here is how I’m weathering the storm: 

  • Being Compliant: We agree with city officials that we must do everything to restore hospitality businesses as soon as possible – and as safely as possible. Working with the city as more and more vaccines are deployed, we hope to move forward as quickly as the public health and the safety of our customers allows.
  • Being Prepared: I was not prepared for the second shutdown. Sour Mouse has been following safety procedures that are more strict than any city or state requires. We’re equipped with modern air filtration, UV lighting, PPE equipment, and more. As we commence 2021, I have taken preemptive measures to account for any situation. 

I launched Sour Mouse to the public under restrictive guidelines. Because of this, promotion and programs for the space became secondary. I wanted to first ensure that anyone who entered Sour Mouse, from the staff to customers, would feel safe. My efforts and budget for entertainment instead went to installing UVC Lighting and hand sanitizer stations throughout the space as well as a True HEPA to filter airborne bacteria. During these financially challenging times, as a business owner, Sour Mouse’s existence is now a reminder of the city’s hope and resilience.

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