WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - More than a year into lockdowns during the pandemic the restaurant industry is still struggling to get off its knees. With more rescue funding becoming available, the light at the end of the tunnel cannot reverse all the darkness that COVID-19 brought.
“There were times that certainly I didn’t know how we were going to make it,” said Bill Arlinghaus, owner of Brickhaus Bar and Grill in Meridian, MS.
With revenue down 80 or 90 percent for Bill over the last year, he says 2020 was a year of adjustments.
“We would go several hours without any customers at all for awhile,” said Arlinghaus.
Bill says his business received little assistance. He tried using the federal Paycheck Protection Program but did not receive anything. Bill says a history of good business kept him afloat and he did not give up hope despite the lack of government assistance.
“I just put my faith in the general public, and our customer base, and our community,” said Arlinghaus.
But many restaurants did not survive the pandemic. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) helped include a $29 billion grant program in the recently passed $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Despite sponsoring the so-called Restaurant Revitalization Fund, in a seemingly contradictory move Wicker voted against the overall relief bill.
“Most of the provisions of this rescue act were too expensive and unnecessary. That said I was happy that we were able to get the restaurants amendment added to it,” said Wicker.
The fund will provide grants to restaurants in need. Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs at the National Restaurant Association says this pandemic took 110 thousand restaurants, 2 million jobs, and $270 billion away from the U.S. He says many more restaurants will have to close their doors in the next three months if federal relief does not come. Kennedy believes the money in this program is a good start, but not a silver bullet.
“We are fighting for anything that we can secure at the federal, state, and local level to ensure that restaurants can get back to normal operating conditions,” said Kennedy.
Arlinghaus says he will consider this program, but more than anything he wants people to feel confident that restaurants like his are safe, and only getting safer with the U.S. vaccination program ramping up.
“We’re providing, I believe, better service than we ever have and I think that’s going to be true across the board for many businesses,” said Arlinghaus.
The grant program is expected to rollout in the coming weeks.
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