Restaurant owners in the Valley said they expected Gov. Tom Wolf's new mitigation orders impacting restaurants — no indoor dining for the next three weeks beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday — but they were still disappointed.
Tom Mertz, owner of Penn’s Tavern along Route 147 just outside of Sunbury, said the new restrictions will hurt restaurants over the next three weeks when business is usually up.
“It’s pulling the rug out from the feet of everyone in the restaurant business,” said Mertz.
December business is traditionally good, but has been less than normal with people avoiding public places and limited capacity. Summer, with outdoor dining worked out really well for Penn’s Tavern, he said.
Now, he said, employees will suffer because of managing labor costs.
Jay Seidel Jr., the owner of Front Street Station in Northumberland, said the news is disappointing.
“We’re going to miss out on our holiday events and New Year’s events,” said Seidel. “It’s pretty disappointing, but our overall business is down anyhow. We have been following everything the governor suggested. We have sanitation stations all over the restaurant. Tables are bare and we sanitize each table and have everyone six feet apart. We practiced all the safe hygiene practices.”
Winter events included a customer appreciation party for Dec. 18, Christmas karaoke on Dec. 26 and an '80s Night for New Years Eve.
Seidel said Front Street had a record summer because of its outdoor patio. While business usually slows in August, he said it continued through September and October. November and December are often busy, but not this year.
“As cases picked up and temperatures dropped, it’s been a crawl,” he said. “We’ll still do takeout, but we’d rather be open. We’d rather have things back to normal."
Craig Bennett owns and operates the craft retail and antique stores Street of Shops and Roller Mills in Lewisburg, the former is also home to a restaurant. Wolf’s latest restrictions impact every aspect of the businesses.
Bennett said layoffs will occur in the restaurant but not in the retail portions of the operation. He sympathized with the decisions Wolf must make as governor. He said the virus has sickened and caused death in the families of his employees, and he spoke in support of prioritizing the public’s health and safety.
The “pause,” as described by the Wolf administration, will have far-reaching impacts, too, on employees and their loved ones. And it comes in a year where business is already battered and 4th quarter shopping was about to peak.
“I’m slightly skeptical that’s going to happen,” Bennett said of restrictions easing at 8 a.m. Jan. 4. “If the numbers continue to accelerate we could see them move the goalposts.”
Bennett called on the government bureaucracy, state and federal, to move swiftly to approve financial relief in the way of grants or tax credits, especially for the restaurant industry.
“Or a lot of places will close. You can only hold this up for so long,” Bennett said.
Bot’s Tavern owner Rick Schuck anticipated the shutdown and announced a week ago that the Selinsgrove bar and restaurant would be closed to indoor dining and drinking tonight at 10 p.m.
He will be selling the remaining food and alcohol on a take-out basis Saturday through Monday and then indefinitely close due to a surge in coronavirus cases.
“I’m glad we made it this far without any of my staff getting sick,” said Schuck, adding that despite hosting “hundreds of college students” none of his patrons have identified Bot’s as a place where they may have contracted the disease.
Although Wolf’s closure to indoor dining will be lifted on Jan. 4, Schuck said he has not decided when he will reopen.
Daily Item reporters Marcia Moore, Justin Strawser and Eric Scicchitano contributed to this story.