Governor Wolf on Thursday outlined measures he believes are necessary to keep the restaurant industry afloat, but restaurateurs and other industry leaders aren’t pleased.
At a restaurant in Pittsburgh, Wolf announced a new measure to waive licensing fees for restaurants, bars, clubs, and hotels for the entire year. He says this will save the service industry $20 million over the year. However, Wolf will have to rely on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to accept the measure. He said he “fully expects they’re going to do this.”
But restaurants aren’t heaping praise on the governor.
PA Restaurant and Lodging Association President John Longstreet said in a statement, “PRLA has been advocating for a number of industry ‘lifelines’ since March 19. It’s unfortunate that the Administration is only now, eight months later, taking our requests seriously.”
Longstreet added “these olive branches will not sustain businesses that are still reeling from closures, shrinking revenue, and well-intended but ineffective mitigation efforts targeting restaurant operators.”
Tom Darlington, owner of the Great American Pub in Narberth, said his licensing renewal fee is only $1300, a far cry from the losses he’s experiencing. “At the end of the day, if you want to give me $1300, you don’t have to renew my license, you can shove it up your a**.”
Both Darlington and Longstreet referenced HB 2513, which would have lifted occupancy restrictions to the levels before mid-July. While the legislature approved, Wolf vetoed the bill and the House this week failed to override. “If the restaurant industry is the backbone of Pennsylvania’s economy, then our Governor needs to understand our backs are broken,” said Longstreet.
For now, restaurants will continue to struggle. They face a winter where the loss of outdoor dining will make economic recovery even harder. “We’re all struggling… It’s hard for small businesses to stay afloat for nine months or a year,” said Darlington. “There’s no end in sight.”
Wolf said the “pandemic has created challenges for everybody in Pennsylvania, but the biggest challenges have been faced by the hospitality industry.”
The Governor and the legislature have been fighting over relief funds and capacity limits, leaving restaurants in limbo. Owners were particularly frustrated by when Wolf loosened restrictions only to tighten them again in July.
Wolf once again justified his tougher restrictions on bars and restaurants by saying the virus is “particularly threatening when people get together and take their masks off, which you have to do when you’re eating, But he acknowledged, “that’s not the fault of bars and restaurants.”
“I know that restaurant owners are committed to keeping their employees and their customers safe,” said Wolf, but added that even when precautions are taken the virus still spreads.
Wolf also reiterated his fall agenda. He wants to cancel or at least reduce the alcohol tax for six months, reduce the price of alcohol for restaurants and bars, add an extra $225 million into the small business relief program, and give $100 million in forgivable loans and grants to the service industry.
And he pleaded with the legislature to take action, especially with CARES Act money expiration deadlines approaching. A billion dollars have yet to be spent, and if the legislature doesn’t spend it by December 31 it will disappear.
“We have a billion dollars left. We know that the restaurant industry has been specifically hard hit,” said Wolf. He encouraged the legislature to act on this after the election. “Let’s get it done.”
“We’re coming up to the holiday season. What hope we can give the bar and tavern community if we can come together to give them some relief” using CARES act money, said State Representative Edward Gainey (D-Allegheny).