Faced with mounting losses amid the coronavirus pandemic, some businesses in New York City are taking their chances and violating the state's shutdown order for non-essential businesses.
While certain regions of New York have begun phased reopening plans, New York City has not.
In two blocks of Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, 7 On Your Side Investigates observed clothing stores, a shoe store, a furniture store, a florist, and a beauty store open for in-store shopping.
One store manager explained he had opened up because he was afraid if he didn't, he would have to close permanently.
"How long is it going to be?" the manager asked. "And they don't want to wait on you. First of the month, you have to pay rent."
Some of the stores had begun selling masks, hand sanitizer, or paper towels in addition to their usual inventory but otherwise nothing essential.
A spokesperson for the governor's office said beginning to sell essential items was not a loophole to allow non-essential businesses to reopen.
"If a non-essential store is open to the public, it is violating New York's public health-based Executive Orders, putting both customers and staff at risk and potentially slowing down the entire reopening process," administration spokesperson Jack Sterne wrote. "We will work with the local authorities to investigate this issue and pursue formal enforcement measures if necessary, including fines."
State and city leaders have reiterated that reopening early puts both the store employees and the public at unnecessary risk, especially in the Bronx, which has suffered a higher death rate than any other borough in the city.
"You know these communities have a higher infection rate," Governor Andrew Cuomo said during a press conference. "You know the new cases tend to come from these communities."
City officials visited the area and told one of the clothing stores to close.
They allowed a furniture store to remain open, but only for the delivery of online orders.
They didn't observe some of the other stores 7 On Your Side Investigates found open but indicated they would continue monitoring the area for non-compliance with the state's shutdown order.
"We have made clear to businesses if you jump the gun, we are going to tell you nicely to close down right now, and if you try to resist or come back, you are going to be hit with fines," Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his daily briefing. "It's just not acceptable. It's dangerous. It's a way to spread the disease."
Failure to follow the state order can carry fines of up to $10,000. Businesses also run the risk of facing the suspension of any state-issued licenses.
The Governor's Office is asking workers who feel they are being asked to report to work in unsafe conditions or before a business is allowed to reopen to contact the New York State Department of Labor at labor.ny.gov/COVIDcomplaint and file a complaint.
New Yorkers can also file complaints about businesses that should not be open by calling 311 or visiting https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/new-york-state-pause.