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Many local restaurants at risk of closing with renewed restrictions

Michael Browning / Unsplash

Gov. John Carney’s latest round of COVID restrictions could spell the end for many locally owned restaurants in the First State.

For many full service restaurants in Delaware, opening up at 30 percent capacity just isn’t financially feasible.

Stephen Lucey is the owner of Ulysses American Gastropub in North Wilmington. He says for most, takeout only isn’t enough to cover the cost of the utilities, food, and staff. Many restaurants save more money by staying closed.

Closing restaurants and restricting capacity has a much farther reach than you might expect, Lucey says.

“It’s a trickle down effect," said Lucey. "If a restaurant goes from 100 percent down to 30 percent, the liquor salesman might lose his job or the food salesman might lose his job temporarily. As well as the majority of the restaurant staff.”

Lucey says restaurants are also known to provide a lot of service to the community, such as volunteering and donating gift cards and prizes to events.

He says he’s been lucky to be able to keep the doors open and turn a profit, even at 30 percent capacity, but others aren’t so lucky. According to the Delaware Restaurant Association, up to 30 percent of restaurants could close without additional funding.

Carrie Leishman is the President of the Delaware Restaurant Association. She says these new restrictions couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“The collateral damage, really, is the employees," said Leishman. "And we are about to force hundreds if not thousands of restaurant workers out on the street at Christmas and the holidays with no federal safety net of unemployment that they had in the spring.”

Laid off workers were eligible to get an extra $600 per week in the spring, but now that number has been halved, making it harder for people to afford to keep the lights on.

Leishman says political gridlock at the federal level leaves workers stranded, because extra benefits they get now run out at the end of the year, and many more could lose their jobs if restaurants close.

Leishman says the most important thing is that the state government come in to fill in the gaps in financial assistance for restaurants and their employees until there’s progress at the federal level.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.