Famous Harlem Fish Market Thrives Amid COVID-19, Loan Denials


by Alexandra Moyen

WINDSOR TERRACE – Eric Strickland was not sure he would ever be able to reopen the doors of his famous fish market because of the pandemic. However, as they opened their doors each morning, they were greeted by a line of customers eager to eat their famous fish and chips.

“Honestly, I’m like, ‘We’re going to hurt to get in there,’” explained market manager and Eric’s son Michael Howie, but “we’ve never closed our doors. The most we closed was one day.

Once the pandemic struck and people were ordered to stay home, many restaurants, lounges and other small businesses had to close – some temporarily, others permanently.

The hardest hit businesses were owned by black people, according to an analysis of April 2020 government data by Robert Farlie of the University of California. While 41 percent of black business owners said they were not working, only 17 percent of white small business owners said the same. The number of black business owners rose from 1.1 million in February 2020 to 640,000 in April, according to Farlie.

Many of these black-owned businesses are suffering because they couldn’t receive loans from their banks, couldn’t move their businesses online, or received less federal stimulus packages. They are also usually retail stores or restaurants that have fewer workers than other small businesses.

“I’ve seen other businesses fall through this, even my favorite restaurants. It’s tough, it’s tough, ”Howie said.

The famous fish market was started in 1974 by Eric Strickland’s aunt, Eloise Cherry. He took over in 1998 and now runs the market with his wife, Viola, and their two children, Michael and Erica. The restaurant has survived a lot, including the gentrification of their Harlem neighborhood. However, when the pandemic peaked in April, the family thought they would have to close their doors for good after 46 years in business.

Eric said they struggled to get a loan and were turned down twice before they got it. They also had to modify the restaurant’s system to comply with CDC rules, such as taking customers’ temperatures before they entered, applying a customer to checkout at a time, their schedules, the way they take the orders and the way they serve the condiments.

“Things are starting to open up for us,” Eric explained. “We have done a lot of things to deal with the coronavirus. We had to change our whole system.

Now the restaurant has defied all odds and continues to thrive, which Erica says is due to their Christian faith.

“There is a higher power, our blessings come from there,” she said. “As long as we’re doing the right thing, let’s give off the right energy. Good things come back.

The family say the faith is mixed with a secret recipe that Michael says is his own version of the “Krabby Patty Formula”.

“Once you taste it, it’s like no other taste like this, and that’s what keeps people coming back,” Viola told Currents News.

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