‘Winter is coming’ — NJ businesses still awaiting COVID-19 answers
More than seven months after the abilities of New Jersey businesses were severely limited in order to take on the coronavirus pandemic, owners and leaders of shops, eateries and other operations continue to have plenty of concerns surrounding restrictions related to COVID-19.
During a virtual town hall hosted by the New Jersey Business Coalition, professionals pleaded for fewer restrictions and more help as the health crisis drags on — and particularly as we approach the coldest months of the year.
"I already stopped taking outdoor dining reservations," said Mark Bernard, general manager of Charlie's of Bay Head.
Continuing to limit restaurants to 25% capacity indoors is "completely unfair" to the industry, Bernard said. At the same time, eateries are dealing with increased costs related to protecting staff and public.
"The winter is coming, and it's going to be four to five months where there's no way places are going to be able to survive at 25%, or most likely 50% capacity," Bernard said.
Earlier this month, Gov. Phil Murphy hinted at plans to increase indoor dining capacity in the Garden State to 35% "soon." His administration has said there's no evidence linking an increase in COVID-19 cases to a return to indoor dining.
Bob Wagner, a restaurateur and vice chair of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said the industry has served as the "scapegoat" during New Jersey's reopening process.
"We're at the end of our rope. We need to get open," Wagner said. "How the heck can you have indoor contact sports, but you can't go out and have dinner in a restaurant? It's ridiculous."
In response to colleagues calling on the state and federal government to offer additional financial assistance, the chief financial officer for Morey's Piers, located in the Wildwoods, also called on officials to "do nothing" in the way of additional legislation and regulations "that increase business expenses."
"I am asking you to do something that may be even harder in Trenton — please pause and do nothing right now," Joe Cleary said.
A proposed statewide ban on single-use bags, which awaits a decision from the governor, can significantly impact the finances of businesses already impacted by the pandemic, Cleary said. Many businesses, he said, have thousands of dollars' worth of these goods "on back order that never got delivered and never got used" that have to be carried over to next season.
Non-essential retail shops in New Jersey were prohibited from doing in-person business for about two months. Retail businesses remain capped at 50% capacity, and must follow a long list of "mitigation requirements" in order to operate.
Annie Rossi, owner of Addicted Chic in Flemington, said Main Street businesses are "struggling so hard" just to stay afloat financially. Retail is closely tied to the restaurant and hospitality industries, she said — fewer opportunities for dining, for example, could mean less foot traffic for nearby businesses.
Beyond asking for financial assistance from the government to help meet expenses, Rossi implored the public to shop and eat local during these trying times.
"Let's not lose these great, individual small businesses and restaurants that we need so much and are such a great part of the fabric of our lives," Rossi said.
Dozens of coalition members, across a number of industries, were slated to speak during Thursday morning's virtual town hall.
“Today’s town hall told the story of the pain and heartache being experienced by New Jersey business owners and nonprofit executives," Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, told New Jersey 101.5. "We heard these job creators and community leaders share the need for comprehensive fiscal resources, responsible increased capacity and their call to halt policies and mandates that are making their already-challenged workplaces even harder to sustain.”
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.