Beaver County Times, Pa.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Congress negotiates another multi billion dollar stimulus bill, entrepreneurs say the help can’t come soon enough. Chris Suttles takes a look at what is happening in Pennsylvania.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday introduced another round of statewide shutdowns on indoor dining and gatherings to address an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and indoor dining at restaurants will be prohibited started Saturday and will continue until at least Jan. 4. The shutdown encompasses casinos, movie theaters, museums and similar establishments.
As Congress negotiates another $908 billion stimulus bill that may include additional aid to small businesses, western Pennsylvania entrepreneurs say the help can’t come soon enough.
Chef Anthony Malone put his Tick Tock Cafe in Ambridge into hibernation on Dec. 1 due to dwindling business amid the pandemic.
Hoping to keep in operation another of his restaurants, the Penn Avenue Pub, he’s launched a GoFundMe campaign for people to donate money for employees as the award-winning Monaca eatery continues offering pickup and delivery service.
“We’re doing everything we can do,” Malone said. “I think people are scared to come out until a vaccine comes out.”
Noting he hasn’t received any government financial help, Malone said in the GoFundMe post that “all the workers here at the pub will be paid if they shut us down. I don’t want my staff to suffer during these troubling times. It would mean so much for this company and staff to stay working and serving this great community.”
After hearing from healthcare industry professionals, Malone said he understands the governor’s decision, but hopes for a swift end to the need for shutdowns.
“I know he’s telling the truth about ICU beds and first-responders in hospitals getting overwhelmed,” he said.
Rick D’Agostino, owner of Sheffield Lanes Bowling Alley and the Fallout Shelter bar in Aliquippa, said the new shutdown order will have an “enormous, negative impact.” He and his wife, Jeannie, took many many steps to follow CDC and health department guidelines, including operating at 50% capacity, strictly sanitizing surfaces and canceling all shows at the Fallout Shelter.
“We had no cases traced to our facility as far as we know,” he said. “We lost a lot of business taking these steps because we only had 50% or less at all times in the building. Because of those steps, we lost open play, bar and food sales, too. Hopefully, we helped curb the spread of this virus. But despite our best efforts, it didn’t matter in the end.”
The shutdown’s short notice and timing could “not be worse as employers will be forced to lay off thousands of more workers as we head into the holiday season,” said John Longstreet, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Longstreet called the order “devastating” to the hospitality industry and urged Congress to approve financial relief for the state’s second-largest economy.
In March, the federal government created several safety nets for businesses and employees through the Paycheck Protection Program and additional unemployment compensation, he said. But those programs no longer exist, and many people have since used up their unemployment compensation eligibility.
A recent National Restaurant Association survey of 6,000 restaurant owners nationwide found more than 75% have seen a decline in sales since the pandemic began, and more than a third of restaurant owners surveyed in Pennsylvania expected to close within the next six months without federal assistance.
“Hundreds of businesses are teetering on the brink of financial disaster, and the livelihood of thousands of employees are on the line,” he said. “The governor offers us nothing but lip service by acknowledging the hospitality industry’s precarious financial situation when our expertise is repeatedly ignored when drafting mitigation orders. The Governor cannot ignore these orders’ impact, and Congress needs to act now to pass real relief.”
Wolf on Thursday recognized the impact another shutdown would have on the hospitality industry and called on Congress to pass the $120 billion Restaurants Act to direct funding to Pennsylvania’s restaurants and bars.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19, that virus thrives in places where people gather together,” Wolf said. “It spreads most easily when people are spending time together, talking with each other without masks on. And these are the same conditions that we find in restaurants and bars … But we need to make sure that these business owners and their employees have the help that they deserve.”
Health experts and contact tracing suggest a portion of the recent COVID-19 spike is due to overcrowding at bars, restaurants and other gathering places, especially at sites failing to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing.
But small business owners operated on razor-thin margins before COVID-19, and most already struggled to compete with corporate entities that don’t face the same financial woes.
At a recent meeting, Beaver County Commissioner Jack Manning called the lack of help from Washington, D.C., “unconscionable.”
“(Business owners) now have to decide, ‘Do I protect the health of people or do I commit financial suicide and go out of business?’ It’s just unconscionable to me that the federal government has not done more to get money into the hands of small business owners,” he said.
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