Life Upended. The coronavirus outbreak has had a devastating impact on our nation, and it has touched Staten Islanders in countless ways. In this series, reporter Tracey Porpora will share the stories of those who have been thrust into situations that were unimaginable just a few months ago — those who have seen their life completely upended. This is the twenty-ninth story of “Life Upended.”
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — For more than 20 years, Huguenot resident Louis Cooper, 59, has been a DJ and co-owner of A Touch of Class, which would provide music, photography and entertainment for hundreds of events — from weddings and bar mitzvahs, to Sweet 16s and corporate affairs — each year.
But in March, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shuttered the globe, Cooper and his business partner, Sherry Cohen, had to reschedule all the clients they had booked.
“We are down about $100,000 [in revenue],” said Cooper, who noted that his two children also work for the company. “And we have about 60 brides we have to place [for new dates for their weddings] between 2021 and 2022. …Everything is in limbo. Catering halls are giving clients new dates, and they’ve been changed two and three times.”
Coronavirus mandates in New York still prohibit large gatherings, and there is a no dancing rule in effect until further notice.
SURVIVING ON SAVINGS
While Cooper said he has had savings to live on, he’s eagerly awaiting the end of the pandemic.
“Right now, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. Nobody wants to have their party with a mask on — especially if you’re having a fancy wedding with video and photography. And you want to be safe,” he said.
With the exception of a few backyard events, he hasn’t been able to work during the health crisis.
“I haven’t been able to do anything that has been able to bring anything substantially financial to the company,” he said. “We’ve only had things like 10 people in a backyard who wanted to listen to some music.”
CLOSING HIS OFFICE
During the pandemic, Cooper also shut down his Bloomfield office, and instead dealt with clients at home.
He said he was given a small amount of money through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
“The PPP loan was a joke because it only lasted two months,” he said. “That covered March and April. Then after that I couldn’t get anything else. I couldn’t get unemployment.”
To survive, Cooper said he has had to dip into his 401K during the pandemic and deferred his home’s mortgage payments.
“I have used money from my 401K and money I have saved over the years as a DJ,” he said. “I’ve been going into my savings to cover my expenses. I deferred my mortgage payments for nine months. …I’m self financing myself.”
Cooper said he could never have dreamed a global pandemic would shutter his business for so long. But he added he is grateful he had a savings to fall back on.
“I’m always prepared for the worst. Life throws you a lot of curveballs, like if you could get sick. If you don’t have savings, you’re in trouble,” he said.
He used his “off time” during the pandemic to go back school.
“I have taken classes in my industry, like photography and video editing classes,” he said. “I keep myself busy, because if you don’t, you’ll lose it mentally.”
He noted that some of his clients have called asking for the “other” services he offers through Touch Of Class, which include photography, videography and even wedding officiants.
“So many of my clients are calling and saying their photographers are not in business anymore. We also provide photo booths …This is where we can step in and help them,” said Cooper. He’s also brushed up on blogging and Internet marketing skills.
“These classes might not bring me money now, but they will bring me money later,” he said.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
While he still has parties booked for January and February, Cooper said he anticipates being busy in April, May and June — the months in which many people have rescheduled their events.
“The hardest part has been not being able to do something I love through no fault of my own. If I was sick, it would be one thing. But it’s because of the virus, and it’s hard to not be able to do what I love,” said Cooper.
But he has hope for the future.
“Hopefully, things will turn around in 2021 and we’ll be able to resume our business as normal. …I have been telling my clients that as soon as they have a firm date from their venue, we are ready for them,” he said.
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