There are myriad tragedies resulting from the pandemic/riot one-two punch America has endured since March. It would normally go without saying the human death toll is the most tragic, but we live in sensitive times and if I don’t say it, somebody is gonna complain.
The misery inflicted upon small business owners is another COVID-related tragedy, and one that is going to play out long past when we have the virus more or less handled. The government has tried to help, but we all know what Ronald Reagan said about that. Loans from the Paycheck Protection Program that Congress passed were supposed to help small business owners meet immediate needs for themselves and their employees, as well as keep the businesses afloat until they were allowed to reopen.
After such a lengthy shutdown, one would assume that the easing of restrictions and reopening of businesses would be a big step in helping the small business people get back on their feet. For many, the shutdown was simply too long to survive. Now, the slow, phased-in reopening, combined with strict social distance protocols, could be the final nail in the coffin of the businesses that survived the shutdowns.
As mask-donning servers approach our widely distanced tables and we grasp our disposable paper menus, the reality for independent restaurants in America is bleak. The “new normal” approach embraced by leaders across the nation is to keep restaurants significantly throttled well into the multi-phase approach to reopening. The few states with low enough COVID-19 transmission rates have chosen to grant business owners permission to earn some money again say they may only do so with a fraction of the business they need to survive.
Simply put, keeping six feet apart at all times with half the dining room closed is a practice that is mutually exclusive of financial survival for any restaurant.
This has been a familiar refrain here in my hometown, which has an unusually high percentage of small, locally-owned bars and restaurants. My cousin manages one of them and it announced that it couldn’t reopen and make any profit under the distancing protocols. The space was simply too small. Forcing a tiny (think breakfast places) restaurant with, say, twenty tables to operate allowing people at only ten of them isn’t a sustainable business model.
More from the post:
A new report released by the Independent Restaurant Coalition estimates that 85 percent of small restaurants will be closed by the end of 2020. Those that are able to survive were either lucky enough to have a slush fund or are buoyed by a corporation that shares their profit. Under the current phased approach to reopening, however, independent restaurants are not going to make it.
Even if restaurants returned to normal operations with no regulations immediately, the report says, the damage done by months of closures has already sealed their fate. That damage, coupled with the unknown repercussions of the pandemic, such as consumer confidence, give few restaurants reason to be optimistic.
Not only is this tragic, but it’s especially galling that businesses are being forced to adhere to social distance protocols while we’ve spent three weeks watching protesters and rioters flood American streets, packed together and not having any consequences whatsoever.
The pandemic/civil unrest combo has ruined the life’s work of millions of Americans who were quite literally pursuing the American dream.