Aug. 27, 2021

305: Meet the NYC Business Owner Fighting Back Against COVID Restrictions and Vaccine Passports- with Eli Klein

How can business owners stand up and fight back against the government rules and restrictions that they're enforcing?

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How can business owners stand up and fight back against the government rules and restrictions that they're enforcing?


Eli Klein is an art gallery owner and has decided to stand up and fight back against New York City, their COVID restrictions/passports, and is helping show other business owners that they can stand up and fight back as well. 


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All right. And with that joining me here on The Brian Nichols Show, he is one of the business owners in New York City fighting back, Eli Klein, welcome to The Brian Nichols Show. Thanks for having me, Brian. Absolutely. Eli, thank you so much for joining the program number one, number two, thank you for being one of the fearless business owners who are saying hey, guess what government I don't care if you say I'm not essential. And they say that you have to do certain things based on a certain requirements and you're fighting back. So let's start off your Eli, I want you to take a chance to introduce yourself to The Brian Nichols Show audience and also, why is your name been in the top of the news lately? More recently on the the corporate media as a business owner in New York City?

Thanks, Brian. Well, my name is Eli Klein, I I own an art gallery here in Manhattan. And it's the name is anonymous. It's Eli Klein gallery of I've had my gallery for almost 15 years now I represent primarily living Chinese artists. So my specialty is in Chinese contemporary art.

I brought your website up here to thank you video. Yeah, video watcher as well.

Right. So I'm a born and bred New Yorker. I was raised in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, my gallery now is in the Far West Village. And look, I love New York. I mean, regardless of the situation now or the situation last year, you know, New York's my home, and it's not something where I'm, you know, going to leave because I'm not happy with certain policies or of other things. And sometimes people say, Well, why don't you just move to Florida or things like that? I mean, look, I'm, you know, my roots are firmly here, my family's here. And when there's a fight worth having, I'm,

I'm happy to fight. We need more people being willing to fight because I don't know about you. It's been a little weird seeing, in some cases, some very close friends all of a sudden, just be like, yep, this is fine. do what you're told. And I'm, I'm kind of like, timeout guys like I what happened to us, you know, using the scientific method, actually testing things and making sure that things make sense, before we move forward. And that you know, that the hypothesis can actually stand on its own and you had a tweet, and I liked it. Um, you'd mentioned how when it comes to looking at the actual science, you're going to be proven right. And I think we're starting to see a lot of people starting to wake up to the fact and I hope more and more people will wake up to the fact that's partly why I'm helping. There's a docu series here called follow the science on lockdowns in liberty. And it's a bunch of Hollywood filmmakers who are going under the pseudonym, the sound mind creative group that tell stories of folks just like you, Eli, and to say, hey, this, this hasn't been based on science. So what was the mandates and restrictions that you've been facing right now? And what's really gotten you to the really lean the national conversation, Eli?

Well, I think in the beginning, you know, it was a lot more single minded in that in March 2020, in New York City, it was, at least, you know, clear to me what was happening in very early March, I mean, I knew that we were going to have big problems. And, you know, I prepared for those problems and prepared my business for those problems. And, you know, I think it was, we didn't know who was we didn't know, kind of the, who was primarily affected by COVID. And, you know, we didn't know exactly how to assess our own personal risks based on, you know, our health age and other factors. And it was all new and scary. And we went into a lot of people were dying a day with COVID in New York, I'm almost 1000 at one point in 2020. And we went into a very, you know, kind of hard lockdown here in in the city, starting around March 20, or something of 2020. What, what got to me was that it didn't end when it should have ended. So, you know, we saw the epidemic curve, you know, kind of unstoppably declining and the level of restrictions and lockdown didn't didn't match where we were with COVID and, you know, it was it was the summer, which obviously isn't, you know, peak respiratory virus season, and it was pretty obvious to me Based on a number of things that it was ridiculous for businesses to be forced to keep close during the summer when there was barely any COVID, in New York City in 2020. So, you know, a little bit before that I was highly disturbed by our reaction and

the continued powers that Governor Cuomo kept on exercising on us, it seemed, you know, disproportionate to what was going on. I was disturbed by his exaggeration, and lying about the risk of COVID, to children and about schools. And you know, that he started doing that in early April 2020. And, you know, right away, I knew the consequences it would have on New York's parents and on kids, that they would be scared and terrified to death, and that it wasn't as dangerous to kids as he was making it sound. And he was completely oblivious, really, to the, you know, long term problems that that's going to cause anywhere. And, you know, I really started being a voice against largely what Cuomo and how he was governing the decisions he was making, what they were based on the messaging that he was giving. But he turned out, I was correct on basically, you know, almost all of my criticisms of him, despite the media, amplifying, you know, what he would say, as though he's some kind of no at all. And in retrospect, of course, you know, the people that disagreed with me, then, you know, disagree with him now. And it's kind of like many other of these many other COVID issues where, just because mainstream isn't getting it, right doesn't mean that those of us with, you know, common sense that listen to a variety of scientists, and who aren't thinking a politically right, my my kind of self analysis of this has always been, or has always been a political and, you know, I'm a lifelong Democrat. But that doesn't mean that I'm following any kind of party line with respect to how I'm looking at it. And to be honest, I've been, you know, much more thoughtful, and in my opinion, and, and what I've, the way I would have handled, it is much better than New York ended up handling. And unfortunately, I think that we're in for much of the same restrictions that simply didn't work when the fall and winter respiratory virus hits us, again, in 2021, which is just an epic disaster that we're going to, you know, for somewhat political reasons. And for other, you know, we're just these scientists and politicians are unable to admit they were wrong, they're unable to kind of abolish their priors with respect to how COVID can be managed. And I think we're close to the point where we're going to be implementing the same kind of restrictions that didn't work against a variant of COVID, which was far less transmissible than delta. So the insinuation that restrictions that didn't work then with somehow work on a far more transmissible variant is just a leap of ridiculousness. And I know that it's going to be you know, all for nothing. And we're just going to be, you know, closing capacity restrictions, mass mandates, and all kinds of other things, just to seem like we're doing something, but it's actually not going to lead to better COVID outcome. So that's why I haven't put my microphone down. Brian,

I'm seeing a lot of people. And you mentioned, you're a lifelong Democrat who, maybe they kind of bought into this, like, hey, the government, the bunch of experts, they kinda I, you know what, I have the exact analogy. It's the john Delaney skit, where he's talking about government and Trump coming into government says horse in the hospital skit, and he's like, and I thought that government was doing okay, cuz it was held by a bunch of smart people. That's how a lot of people I think, approached government. And they were just apathetic, you know, my tax dollars went to the government it got taken care of, and then push came to shove, I think we're seeing a lot of folks realizing that these government experts, I mean, experts in in academia, they're experts in in the textbooks, and when all of a sudden you start to apply, I mean, just like you're a business owner, there are so many factors that are out there that you can't even necessarily prepare for but you have to adapt and you can't make it perfect. And I don't know about you, but I've seen in this more and more approach to saying we need to get to zero COVID. Elan, I think it is zero for the long term, and the quicker and sooner that we start to accept And more importantly, the bureaucratic health politicians and and so forth, that that institution also will need to start to acknowledge it otherwise 2022 and 2024, I think are going to be a very big wake up call, especially for those of you or your friends, unfortunately, the Democratic Party.

Yeah, look, I agree with that. And I've, you know, made it kind of clear my thoughts on this, that, you know, we're looking at a potential red wave in 2022, when, when California and New York enter our our winters resort to the same restrictions that didn't work. And Florida continues to flourish without restrictions with kids in school while we're tampering with schools again. And the bottom line is that Florida's Florida is in line to outperform California and New York in every COVID related metric. So in age adjusted death rate in, you know, kids in school, better, you know, much better on unemployment rates, there's just, it's just bizarre that we weren't able to look at the success that Rhonda Santas had following certain scientific thoughts in Florida. And it changed our plan in in blue states to kind of mimic that success. And now we see people very critical of Florida's current COVID wave, which seems as though its peak, and it's really gonna come around and, and bite us. You know, given what New York and California are in for this winter, there's simply nothing we can do to stop Delta. And it's gonna make it's gonna make our criticisms of Florida's inevitable, you know, Summer COVID wave, look, you know, very silly. And, frankly, I think we're we're almost doing everything we can to, to hand Rhonda Santas, the leadership role and in the Republican Party and the potential for him to be the next president in 2025. You know, I don't, I don't see any alternative here, when there's going to be so many single issue voters that are just voting, because their kids haven't been in school for two plus years, and want to make sure that this kind of real tragedy never happens. Again.

I'm hearing it. I've had angry moms, I've had angry business owners, I've had entrepreneurs who watch their entire livelihoods just crushed. And the conversations I mean, the more you have them, the more your heart breaks, because this all could have been avoided. And I think this is something that we need to keep going back to. And again, I don't mean to keep on talking about our good friends over the sound mind creative group, but why we need to support you know, organizations who are making sure that we're saying the narrative straight because the the real impact beyond the that the health implications, the the long term ramifications of shutting down entire economies, the supply chain disruptions, I mean, look at what they did to cities like New York to Philadelphia, where I'm based, look down the east coast, and then look over to Australia, look to Canada, and look at how their governments have reacted. And I think a lot of people are starting to, again, get that kind of sense that something's wrong here. And it shouldn't have to be that way, especially when you had those case studies, right here in the United States, down in the south in Florida. So let me ask you this. Eli, you mentioned again, that you're a Democrat, and I'm just curious, has this maybe shaken that political identification to maybe have you say, there's a lot of stuff that I kind of believed before and now I'm not so sure, based on how you've seen the government handle the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions?

To be honest, that has I mean, I'm certainly gonna, you know, tremble at the thought of voting for people that have you know, continued these lock downs. Well past the point to where we've seen they haven't worked. So, you know, the, the data really aren't. We know from all kinds of state by state comparisons and other comparisons that that in America at least, continued prolonged lockdowns aren't leading to better overall COVID outcomes even and they're certainly have all these other you know, catastrophic collateral. Damage affects. So it's a huge issue for me. I, you know, I worry about what happens, you know, in, in the next pandemic, what happens in a terrible flu season? Do they close schools again? Do they implement mask mandates, which, you know, a mask mandate isn't it's not just a mask, a mask slows down, the entire city people are less happy or willing to go shopping to go in malls to do all kinds of theaters, all kinds of other activities if they're forced to cover their face all day, including working in offices. So the thought that you know, for the blue states to be or blue cities, or blue regions to be so quick to, you know, implement a masked mandate. Because even if it's only, you know, because it's not because it's only a mask, is really short sighted thinking, and that it's not just a mass, it's not just a mascot, it affects, you know, all aspects of life and of business and of, of mental health. And, you know, certainly when people are pushing here in New York to, you know, to re mask, immune people and vaccinated people, it's just bizarre and ridiculous, there has to be some kind of off ramp, there has to be an end game, there has to be a point to which we say, look, we've done everything we can, we're over a year and a half into this. And and enough is enough vaccines have been freely available for everyone over 12 for many months. You know, it's a it's a flu level risk for, for children under 12. And, you know, those who have chosen not to vaccinate have made their choices, you know, we can help them. And I certainly have, but at some point, we have to just move on and go back to, to living a complete, holistic life that looks at every risk, and not just the small additional risks that COVID may pose.

Speaking of moving on, I think it's also important to look back, because I think we're seeing right now, Eli, a lot of people are forgetting what it means to live. Because we're like you said, we're over a year and a half now, at this point where this has been normal. It's not normal. So how about this? Where was New York City prior to COVID? What has COVID done to New York City? And where do you see New York City going? if things continue down this path?

Okay, look, those are good questions. And you see conflicting reports on how well New York City is doing and, and so on and so forth. I think, you know, New York City is recovering slower than, than the rest of New York, at least that's kind of, you know, where our thoughts are. A problem now is that, because of, you know, CDC policy and whatnot, a lot of tourists aren't allowed here. A lot of tourists from other states won't come here because their children need to be vaccinated in order to eat at any restaurant, and things like that, you know, we've made policies that are essentially banning i a ton of tourists, right. And New York isn't, is a city that, you know, thrives on tourism. So I think the effect of tourism is, is brutal, both from on a federal and on a state and city level with respect to our rules, but certainly areas of New York City have, you know, certainly of Manhattan have churned through this much better than others. So, you know, you have kind of office areas and, and Madison Avenue and Midtown that are really, still quite depressed, and the street traffic is a shell of what it once was. And the people haven't returned to offices, you know, the tourism isn't there. And anybody you know, although look with so many of us in New York, that can make the other areas like Greenwich Village and Soho and try backup, you know, really seem popping and terrific. But if you you know, there's a real disparity on what has recovered and what has what hasn't had as many problems because of COVID. And I think, you know, the jury's still out, and New York really has to, has to put this behind us. And, you know, the bottom line is that people are in New York are still generally really unable to, to risk manage as well as they Should so you know, vaccinated people aren't looking at COVID as a as a mild respiratory risk that they've lived with their whole entire lives. There are many vaccinated people, a certain percentage of them are still looking at it as though you know, it's the plague when they need to be looking at it as though it's a soon to be endemic, Coronavirus that they're not going to be able to avoid, and they're going to have to be, they're going to inevitably be exposed to numerous times throughout their life. That's the unfortunate kind of sad truth that I've come to terms with and you know, more New Yorkers really have to come to terms with that. Because even if we lose, you know, five to 10%, of New Yorkers being active because of, you know, Corona phobia, or a rational fear of COVID, that's substantial enough to really to hurt our economy, especially when people aren't back to work. And, and the tourism just isn't here. And then

you have the whole other conversation about the show me your papers, Eli, I mean, vaccine passports. I, I'm just astonished that what was considered a conspiracy theory, just a short what couple of months ago, is now active policy in not only New York City, but across the world many places. Eli, it's, it's scary that we aren't this place. So how about this, let's give some hope. For New York City, I know that we have we have people who are fighting the good fight like you tell us stories out there, who else is out there for business owners and so forth? Who we can look to raise these names up to say these are the folks in New York who are fighting back?

Well, look, you know, to be honest, it pains me to say it, but there's not a lot of folks in New York that are at least outwardly speaking up and fighting back, there's just simply not what it comes down to his, you know, the 5% of businesses that can thrive by making their customers, you know, feel more safe, will implement these, these vaccine only policies, and then, you know, 95% of New York, and certainly every low income area that can't afford to lose 10 to 20% of their business will be unable to implement this. So it really is this kind of awkward vaccine segregation that we're seeing in New York. And, you know, look, I think people sometimes don't understand that the purpose of these vaccine verification mandates are primarily to incentivize vaccinations, as opposed to make people actually more safe, that are already vaccinated, because we're all going to be exposed to COVID. At some point anyway, oh, you know, a lot of people don't realize that. But, you know, when you start depriving people that have been infected before with, you know, these people with confirm prior infections, who generally, it turns out are, on average, more protected than vaccinated people, you know, we're excluding people with with confirmed prior infections, from the ability to even obtain vaccine or immunity credentials that allow them into businesses, such as my art gallery, you know, then you've, you've walked into the realm of bizarre pseudoscience, and something that just isn't even a reasonable for common sense minded, smart people like myself to dream of adhering to so now I'm adverse to the potential of ever asking anybody to show me their vaccine credentials before they walk in my gallery. But I'm certainly not going to start being the arbiter of immunity levels and ban the prior infected who are more protected than I am being kind of a fully vaccinated co virgin, if you will.

It's like the Are we the baddies that that meme that that's what it feels like when you see the people especially I think it was over in France, you see police actually going around, saying, show me your papers, a little dystopian. You can follow Eli on twitter at the Ely client. Where else can folks go ahead and learn more about you, Eli, but also support your gallery and all that's going to be happening down the pike. We're going to go ahead and find more.

Thank you, Brian. I mean, if you're certainly If you're in New York, you're welcome to visit my gallery. I won't be asking you for your vaccine credentials on the way in. Again, in the Far West Village at 398, West Street, I always have a well thought out. Kind of historical historically important, I like to think exhibition of contemporary Chinese art at my gallery, but you're welcome to find me on Twitter, again, the like line, I'm, you know, very outspoken and active there. Um, you know, I'm happy to have these kinds of conversations with people. And, look, my goal is just to have a common sense approach to all this. I'm not an extremist by any sense of the imagination. But you know, when something is wrong, it's wrong. And I've decided to speak out and I would urge more New Yorkers to do the same.

More New Yorkers, more Americans have anyone who is saying enough's enough time to speak up because if you don't, well, nobody else will. So with that being said, Thank you for joining us on the episode. Eli Klein. Thanks for joining us. Thanks so much for having me, Brian.

Transcribed by

Eli KleinProfile Photo

Eli Klein

Eli Klein has an international reputation as one of the foremost experts specializing in Chinese contemporary art. His gallery, Eli Klein Gallery, has published more than 40 books and has been instrumental in the loan of artwork by Chinese artists to over 100 museum exhibitions throughout the world. Mr. Klein has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Newsweek, and has been on CNN and countless other international broadcasts and publications.

Eli Klein Gallery is located in a historic, landmarked Federal-style row house carrying special cultural and aesthetic value to the City of New York. It occupies 3 levels of the building with approximately 3,000 square feet boasting 13-foot ceilings on the street-level. As America’s leading dealer of Chinese contemporary art, Eli Klein actively promotes cross-cultural awareness at the highest level amongst some of the world’s most influential nations