By JOSEPH DE LA CRUZ
Raj Rajput is used to dealing with difficult situations. But the taekwondo master faces a new challenge, and it’s not exactly on his own initiative.
Owner of Warriors Taekwondo at 5904 Riverdale Ave., Rajput – like many others – was forced to shut down as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the city. No student meant no income, and because of this, Rajput fell behind on his rent. A lot.
Now, as the world slowly reopens, Rajput is trying to catch up. But its owner – and longtime friend – Lenny Morse himself has struggled with the pandemic. And the owner of the nearby vacuum cleaner sales and repair store may not even be able to provide Rajput with the weapon he needs most: time.
“I did not close the business,” Rajput said. “I was forced to shut down by the state. And, you know, it’s the only way to make a living.
The state classifies Rajput’s business as a gymnasium, which was forced to close for months by a decree issued by the government of the day. Andrew Cuomo as a way to control the spread of COVID-19. This left not just its location in North Riverdale, but two others in Manhattan.
And one of them – found in the Marble Hill section of Broadway – was forced to shut down for good.
“When we started we had a great business with three schools,” Rajput said. “But I closed one because of the pandemic. I couldn’t have survived if I hadn’t put an end to it.
Now, the only other Rajput location outside of North Riverdale is near West 207th Street and 10th Avenue in Inwood.
Morse understands. Vacuum World is over 50 years old. And while his business was allowed to remain open for much of the pandemic, Morse – like other small retailers – has felt the economic pain that followed the dominance of COVID-19.
He rented the space next to Vacuum World in Rajput for six years, and the two even trained in martial arts together. Still, Morse believes the martial arts master doesn’t turn out to be a master when it comes to leveraging government programs designed to help businesses like his.
“Raj has been a great tenant who has always paid his rent on time before the pandemic,” said Morse. “Unfortunately, he needs the state’s help now, and they have to send that rental aid to him.”
Rajput typically pays Morse $ 4,000 for the space each month. When the pandemic closed the dojo in the spring of 2020, Rajput paid Morse $ 600 for one month, then another $ 1,000 the following month. After that, Rajput couldn’t spare much and now owes Morse over $ 56,000.
Still, Warriors Taekwondo remains on Riverdale Avenue.
“Thank goodness Lenny is a friend of mine and it was pretty easy with me on rent,” Rajput said. “He was very nice and understands it. “
But this patience cannot go further. Morse has his own bills to pay, like mortgages and taxes. Unlike the big property management companies that might float these kinds of deficits, Morse is just a small business owner who depends on the income he earns from his commercial rental property to make ends meet.
And it’s not just the rent. Rajput also owes utility bills for electricity, internet, cable and telephone, not to mention insurance. Without emergency rental assistance, it is impossible for him to repay all the money he owes.
“I have a whole box of bills, but no money to pay them,” Rajput said.
The rent at his Inwood location is a little higher – $ 7,000 – and he owes money there, too, to the tune of $ 150,000.
“I also owe Con Edison around $ 17,000,” Rajput added.
Rajput requested some of the help offered by the government. He applied for a loan under the federal paycheck protection program, but was refused. He also applied for the state-run rental assistance program, but was also turned down. Twice.
“I just applied for the rent assistance program again,” Rajput said, “but I also just applied for a 30-year loan – which I’m on a waiting list for – from a loan company. from New Jersey that helps small businesses At this point, you know, I’m desperate.
But it looks like help is coming. Rajput was approved for one of these high interest loans this week, but the amount is unclear. This money, however, will help him pay off some of the debt he owes in Manhattan. The other loan, intended for North Riverdale, remains on hold.
And there is a little more good news. Much of Rajput’s business comes from its after-school program. With classes starting Monday and returning in person, Rajput expects some of this business to come back, which could at least get him to pay some of those bills again.
“I keep promising (Morse) that once the after school program starts, I can pay for it more,” Rajput said.
Yet even with the start of the school year, parents are still very reluctant to overdo in-person activities – especially with the delta variant still taking its toll.
The only bright spot for Rajput, at least, through it all, is that Morse can’t kick him out – although that’s bad news for Morse. Governor Kathy Hochul extended the moratorium on evictions of commercial tenants in arrears earlier this month.
Rajput is hoping that with the new extension – and the state’s efforts to shell out more emergency rent assistance money – he can finally catch up.
“I spent a lot of money to build these places,” he said. “I just don’t want to let them go.”
And, in the long run, Rajput believes it would only benefit the community to keep its taekwondo studios in business rather than let them falter.
I am an asset to the neighborhood, ”he said. “I pick the kids up from school, give them snacks, help them with their homework, then teach them how to train and defend themselves through martial arts.
“A lot of parents work from 9 to 6 years old. Not everyone has the opportunity to pick up their children from school. “