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Grassroots Pandemic Stories: The Negative Impact On Small Business Taverns And Restaurants

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Grassroots Pandemic Stories: The Negative Impact On Small Business Taverns And Restaurants

Tom Tyler, owner of McStew’s Irish Sports Pub in Levittown

On Wednesday, February 3, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association testified in front of the State House Commerce Committee to tell the story of small business taverns and restaurants in regards to how the pandemic’s mitigation orders are negatively impacting the industry. Representing the PLBTA was Tom Tyler, president of the Association and owner of McStew’s Irish Sports Pub in Bucks County.

The PLBTA submitted written testimony which can be found by clicking here, but verbally told stories from our grassroots. These are the condensed stories from our Members.

From a Member in rural Bucks County

I own a very small bar in Upper Bucks County and the shutdown crippled me personally, my business and my employees and their families. I found out about the first shut down on March 16th as I arrived back from my weekly food shopping trip and had already received my three beer orders for the week. Lots of waste and no income. …

I dipped into my personal savings to loan to my employees to help them pay their bills since unemployment took so long to arrive. I was fortunate to receive PPP and grant money but this in no way makes up for loss of business or loss of income to my employees. I was ok with a few weeks off but separate from the financial difficulties it is easy to become depressed and angry and that is not who I am. …

Happy to reopen in June, outdoors only and before you knew it, shut down again. With no warning, again, received the news as I returned from my food shopping with a walk-in full of beer as well. The amount of product wasted, once again, was just an extra kick in the teeth.

From a Member with an establishment in Perry County (was finalizing the legal papers to run his business when the mitigation orders started)

Every bill or aid package for our industry seems to cling to the February 15, 2020, date as a firm cut off for eligibility. Reading all of these bills seems to imply that those who opened after February 15th either could not be suffering or it’s their own fault for opening a business in this time…

As I explained to my State Rep some of us were contractually obligated to go through with the purchase of our restaurants at the very beginning of the pandemic when all Government officials were preaching “15 days to flatten the curve.” We were led by our officials to believe this would be a short-lived inconvenience but we all know that now to be untrue. Now, a year later, bills and grants are still requiring your business must have been in operation before February 15th 2020 to qualify for any assistance….

It’s taking all I have to keep my employees employed and pay my bills. We do not qualify for any assistance because we do not have historical data but we are expected to comply with all of the regulations impacting our ability to generate revenue.

50% capacity, No bar service, No late night service, No to-go cocktails… the list of “No’s” goes on and on, but there is no relief. To add insult to injury, both of our neighboring bars are doing full bar service, not following capacity restrictions or enforcing masks, and are not requiring a meal with alcohol purchases, BUT they both passed their inspections from the state and receive aid.

From a Member in Allegheny County (shot and beer establishment, very little seating without the use of bar tops. This business was closed most of 2020 and only just reopened in January.)

I am an owner of 3 small businesses, 2 of which I share with my sister. My dad built those 2 small businesses up for over 20 years in the not so popular areas of the county. He never took a day off, he never took a vacation, he was a veteran and fought for this country. He passed away almost 6 years ago in a horrific accident and left his legacy to his daughters. The legacy you shut down from day one, and we complied to keep customers, the community and ourselves safe from the virus. You assured us it was for 2 weeks, 2 weeks to get the hospitals prepared in case there was an outbreak. Well here we are almost a year later, bills piling up while you choked our income. You tell us they can’t turn your utilities off, okay but it’s still a bill that continues to accrue. And by the way you can’t have a payment plan as a business. We have taxes, we have insurance, we have licenses that all need to be paid. Let’s see, if I put all my bills in one hand and all my income, which is zero, in the other, what do you think is going to happen???

And how about all the guidelines that pertain to me but not the big businesses. Why is that? Why can the casinos open up and have video games and table games but I can’t have a pool table? I can’t have arcade games or a dart machine? I can provide the same amount of protection as a casino can- I can place machines 6 feet apart, I can put plexiglass up, I can provide sanitizer. To play pool only one person is at the table at a time to shoot, how many people are at the table games at a casino? To play darts only one person shoots at a time with their own darts? Are the casino arcade/video games immune to the virus like Walmart, Giant Eagle, Home Depot and countless other big corporate stores? Please explain this to me! Make me understand how this isn’t discrimination. Explain to me why the virus lives at my business and not in the elevator to the casino.

It makes me sick to my stomach every time I go to the mailbox and see bills and taxes due and my lack at being able to pay them at no fault of my own. I didn’t mismanage my money.

From a Member in Lebanon County

We are a small town local bar in Palmyra, Pa. This is our 28th year in business. Where there used to be a bar full of working class folks, there is almost no one. People who used to stop for a beer after work don’t because they have to buy a meal. They just want a place to stop for a drink or two, hear the news or catch up with friends but can’t because they are forced to buy a meal. People can’t afford to do that. They may not spend much but they were here every day after work before the food mandate and removal of bar seating.

The restriction that has had the greatest impact on my business has been the early closing hours. A large percentage of our clientele are second shift people and other restaurant and bar workers. My bartenders would make more than 75% of their tips from other bartenders and servers because our industry takes care of each other. This has changed because of closing early.

I can’t express enough what an economic hardship this has been for my employees. They depend on tips to pay their bills and take care of their family. I have had to layoff people for the fist time in 28 years. I am truly thankful for any help I have received in the grants and loans because I have been able to pay my employees. Food sales are less than 20% of my business. I depend on the sale of beer and alcohol to stay open. I am afraid if things don’t change I will lose my business.

We are following all the rules of social distancing, requiring all patrons and employees to wear masks. we can safely provide bar seating by providing barriers. We are on your side! We want to end the pandemic and keep our patrons and employees safe. This has impacted all Americans. Almost everyone knows someone who has died or gotten the virus.

All we ask is that you take an honest look at what these mandates are accomplishing against the catastrophic harm they are doing to small business.

From a Member in Berks County

Shutting our Business down on the eve of one of our largest sales days when the food and beverages needed were already purchased was the first sign of what was going to come. We lost appx. $5,000 in lost wages and Food and Beverage Inventory. While the first emotion was panic in being shut down, we knew our business would need short term capital to get us through the next few weeks. Payrolls needed to be met, suppliers needed to be paid and taxes filed. We had to put $50,000 into the checking account to keep us afloat. We had 43 employees before being shut down and now we were at 18. We were told that this shut down would be a few weeks. Now 10+ months in we still have no light at the end of this debacle. We have obtained the $10,000 EIDL, $50,000 County Grant, the first round of PPP and we are applying for the second round of PPP. We are thankful for the assistance, but we do not want the government to help, we just want to be open and meet the challenges head on.

Restaurants and Taverns are not the boogeymen you think we are. We have implemented all the new safety guidelines and have gone further to install an air Virus filtration system. We do care and we are concerned. We just do not believe that giving certain people a chance to survive and purposely killing others is good policy. Imagine your family has lost all your personal assets, lost your job and all retirement accounts and pensions have been lost. Sit around for ten more months without pay to support your family. The only relief is government assistance.

From a Member in Clearfield County

We have been in operation since September of 1977 and have seen many challenges and struggles in our Industry over the years but none like the present challenge due to Covid 19. …

Our business in 2020 sustained a six-figure loss of revenue that we will never recover. …

It is time to allow Business owners the right to rebuild, recover and re-employ Pennsylvania workers in the Restaurant Industry. …

We can provide a safe environment to conduct business. …

From a Member in Westmoreland County (reception venue)

We have been a family-owned business for 63 years. We have four ballrooms and every weekend the ballrooms were filled with laughter with weddings, outdoor ceremonies, anniversaries, proms, and other special occasions. We hold up to 500 guests. We are now down to zero!

This pandemic has destroyed our business. Rooms remain empty and some rooms have remained empty for one yere. There is no end in site as we are now getting cancellations for events for the summer months.

Employees are laid off and chefs were taken off salary and are on part time. 2 waitstaff workers are employed part time out of a staff of 30. In 63 years, we never laid anyone off.

The government has made us certify our business to do 50% capacity and we are afraid, as we are threatened by the Liquor Control Board, for violations and fines if they find something wrong. We are taking money out of our savings to keep the building going with expenses, property taxes, and insurance. Soon, we will have a month that $100,000 is due for insurance and property taxes. PPP money did help some, but has been gone for some time. The money was greatly appreciated. The owners have not taken a paycheck since last year to keep the business going. We just need to open to pay our own bills.

We are asking the media and government to assist in more positive statements instead of constantly talking about ventilators and deaths. Everyone knows this virus is serious. We all know what to do and keep our business safe and healthy. We would like to have a positive attitude about the vaccine and how this is helping our community to get back to normal. … We need to get our community confident to be around each other with no problems.

We have thrown so much food out with opening and closing several times I lost track of the loss. Our loss affects all our purveyors as they are asking – where are your orders?

We need help in making a positive outlook for the restaurant/hospitality industry or we will not make it.

From a Member in Adams County

On January 1, 1973 a 25-year-old became the owner of the Franklin House Tavern in Hanover after purchasing it from his parents, who had bought it in 1959. He continued to operate the Franklin House Tavern for the next 47 years.

Then COVID happened and mandates happened.

On March 16th, 2020 when leaders mandated that bars and restaurants close for 10 days, in effect they ordered the death of the Franklin House Tavern and many other bars and restaurants in the Commonwealth. The order was to close for 10 days. We thought, ok—we can do this. It won’t be that bad. But then the 10 days were stretched into 87 days of closure. Despite being closed and not needing to purchase inventory, our expense to be closed was $500 per day. That covered utilities, taxes, insurance and other miscellaneous bills. We still had to pay these bills with no revenue coming in. Over 87 days, the bills totaled $43,500 with no income coming in. The business was debt free except for monthly operating expenses. We kept paying the bills and praying for the reopening day knowing the $43,500 could never be recouped.

When counties across the Commonwealth started opening under the stoplight method, we watched and read what leaders were doing to open safely. We combed through the information the CDC had on its website. We printed and laminated signage. We created an employee manual of how to do this or how to do that; we had custom made face masks made for each employee out of green and purple Crowne Royal bags; we bought and labeled personal size spray bottles for the employees to have their own sanitizer for their face masks; we bought no-touch thermometers for temp taking at shift change; we created a sanitizing chart for the bar and kitchen areas; we bought CDC approved hospital grade sanitizer for common areas; we did individual sized condiment packages; prepacked plastic silverware; disposable dishes. EVERYTHING the CDC recommended to operate safely—we were ready. We had an employee meeting 48 hours before opening to go over everything that needed to be done so that our employees could safely return to work.

On June 12th we reopened at 50% occupancy. We had people socially distance, we counted people coming and going. We played by the rules. We believed what we were being told by the officials in Harrisburg. Income was down because of reduced occupancy but we believed we could survive this.

On July 15th, with no warning our occupancy was cut to 25%, food was required with an alcoholic beverage purchase—and had to be on the tabletop if alcoholic beverages were on the table. No alcoholic beverages after 11 p.m. AND no customers sitting at the bar. We played by the rules. The rules hurt. Hanover is a shift-working community. Our late-night business is where we made our money. Second shift workers that got off work at 11 p.m. would come in, get something to eat and have a couple of drinks. 11 p.m. was their 5:00. Business income declined dramatically. Playing by the rules was hurting us. Playing by the rules was killing us.

When the mandate came out that said no alcoholic beverages after 5:00 on Thanksgiving eve, we played by the rules. We closed.

When the mandate was issued to close December 11, 2020 -January 4th, 2021, we played by the rules and we closed.

At home, in our private conversations, we knew could not withstand another shutdown of 3 weeks. Our first thought was that the shutdown might go longer than January 4th. Afterall, the March 16th shutdown was supposed to be 10 days and it went 87 days. Our next thought was that the first quarter of the year is the worst for us financially speaking. Having been closed 97+ days in 2020, occupancy reduced to 25%, no alcohol sales after 11 p.m. and no sitting at the bar…we knew we were done.

We utilized PPP money, we applied for grants, we did everything possible to stay open. We worried about our employees and how they were going to survive. Many of them applied for partial unemployment in July and in November some still had not received anything.

We should have started our 48th year of business on January 1st. Instead, we, like many other mom and pop businesses in PA are closed permanently. Our debt free business that had existed 61 years in one family could not survive the mandates.

From a Member in Allegheny County

I want to let you know how all these mitigation orders are affecting my bar/business. I am located in a small town in Allegheny County. My bar is just that ….. a small local bar. My sales are based more on alcohol than food. Everyone that patronizes my bar pretty much knows each other. They come to socialize, play pool, darts, and listen to the juke box. I’ve had college students stop in and say how much they miss ‘their night’, ie college night. We’ve missed a new group of students. And sadly, I don’t think we will get to meet them anytime soon.

My bills don’t just go away because I have no sales. I’ve had to stop, re-start, stop, re-start my dumpster service, bar towel service, satellite service so many times that it is beyond ridiculous. I’m sure these companies don’t appreciate it either because they in turn are losing money.

I have lost between $500,000-$600,00 in the past year. You have taken every holiday away from us to earn extra money. We grocery shop and then you tell us we need to close down, which means any fresh items end up in the trash. Once again, more money lost.

How do you expect us to survive? Then all the paperwork we have to fill out just to get grant money. I’m still waiting for paperwork to have my ‘loan’ forgiven.

How do you expect my employees to survive? My bartenders especially have lost a lot of money.
No one wants to lose their business that they’ve sunk their heart and soul into. It has been totally unfair that bars & restaurants have been the primary target pretty much since day one.

You say that certain stores are a necessity. But I disagree to a point. How is going to Walmart to buy paint a necessity? Last year when we were shut down, Lowes, Home Depot, etc were booming because everyone did all their remodeling, painting, planting. Like I said, how is that a necessity? I understand they may need to be open if your washing broke and you need a new one or you need a part but everything else is ludicrous.

I’ve followed all these rules every single time. But I have to admit I’ve been tempted not too. How much money am I going to lose this year? I’d say for the month of January I lost a minimum of $40,000.
I’ll end this now with: How do you tell a bar they can stay open until midnight, but can’t sell alcohol after 11 pm? What is the point?

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