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Eateries have ‘catastrophic losses’

The pandemic and its related restrictions have been challenging for virtually every business in Pennsylvania, but few more than restaurants and bars.

Servers and cooks soldier on through restrictions which have caused numerous establishments across the state to close their doors, some permanently.

On Monday restaurants got some relief from the state, receiving the green light to increase their dine-in capacity to 50% from 25%. But restaurants say it will take a lot more to reverse the effects of months of reduced capacity and business.

“Something has to happen for the restaurant industry,” said Richard Wenner, owner of Bowmanstown Diner. “At some point they’re going to have to give us some relief, because the winter months are going to put a lot of people out of business.”

On paper, the move allows restaurants to have twice as many patrons. But it’s difficult to add seats while complying with the state’s social distancing guidelines for restaurants. The Wolf administration has recommended that parties should be separated by 6 feet.

While Leiby’s Ice Cream House & Restaurant, in West Penn Township, has a large dining area, they won’t be able to add many more seats because they want to comply with the state’s guidelines for social distancing.

“There’s only so much space you can use. That’s our situation. If it goes to 50 percent, it doesn’t have any effect. We can’t add anything, we can’t make anything closer,” said Daniel Leiby, owner of Leiby’s.

Many restaurants have added temporary dining to give them additional capacity during the summer months. But soon, it will be too cold for the temporary tents and tables to be useful. Even with 50 percent capacity for indoor dining, they’ll have fewer seats available.

“The outdoor thing worked, but when it gets cold and we’re going to have to do away with the outdoor thing, we’re going to be hurting,” said Richard Wenner, owner of Bowmanstown Diner.

The increased capacity is being welcomed by some businesses that have room for more visitors. At Molly Maguires Pub and Steakhouse in Jim Thorpe, the new guidelines will allow them to serve more of the out-of-town visitors who come to the town on weekends.

Co-owner Darren Behan said the restrictions on capacity has led them to employ a waiting list, which is tough for out-of-town patrons who are dealing with long lines and reduced capacity all over town.

“It’s tough with the restrictions, but once we get their bellies full and they get a couple of brews, they seem to be thankful,” Behan said.

For Molly Maguires, the covered deck has helped them to maintain at least some of the business they had before the pandemic. But making up the business lost from months without dine-in customers, and the continued restriction on bar patrons, will be tough to overcome.

“We’ve had such catastrophic losses. It’s unrecoverable, the amount of losses we’ve had so far,” Behan said.

In order to allow up to 50 percent capacity, restaurants need to comply with a new “self-certification” form where they agree to comply with all requirements. The state says it will prosecute restaurants that violate regulations or misrepresent information about their capacity.

Bars are still only allowed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption if it is in the same transaction as a meal. The impact has been felt by establishments across the state.

A survey from members of the PA licensed beverage and tavern association showed that if they were forced to continue at 25 percent capacity, the majority would not make it through 2021.

With the current plight of restaurants and bars, there are growing calls for the state to provide them with financial assistance.

“This industry can’t sustain itself under these conditions. Changes in state restrictions along with survival and recovery financial packages are needed,” said Chuck Moran, the organization’s executive director.

Christy Alfaro of Leiby's Ice Cream House & Restaurant serves Thomas and Paula Lyons. Monday's increase in dine-in capacity for restaurants won't help Leiby's because they are complying with the Wolf administration's guidelines for social distancing. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS