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Richmond restaurant owner fears wave of closures this winter: 'The clock's ticking'

"The next wave is going to hit... if something isn’t done immediately.”
Posted at 5:48 PM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 18:15:03-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- For 10 years, diners filled F.W. Sullivans on West Main Street for a drink and a bite to eat. But Jake Crocker’s “social center” was no match for the COVID-19 pandemic and demand for social distancing.

Crocker temporarily closed his Fan District restaurant on March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. Seven months later, his closure became permanent.

“These places that mean a lot to so many people — they’re unfortunately not going to be there when the world reopens,” Crocker explained. “You’re going to look around and there’s going to be a different landscape.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, 10,000 restaurants nationwide closed within the last three months.

In a letter sent Dec. 7 to Congress leaders, the Association told lawmakers that restaurants “are under siege and in desperate need of financial assistance as tens of thousands of businesses are shuttering permanently or closing for the long term.”

In a survey, the Association found that 87% of full-service restaurants reported an average of 36% drop in sales revenue.

“You already saw a wave of closures. The next wave is going to hit after New Year if something isn’t done immediately,” Crocker stated.

Robert Melvin, director of government affairs for Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, said restaurants are struggling across the board.

“It’s not that they’re just losing revenue, but their costs are also increasing. It’s just creating a perfect storm of difficulties for these folks,” Melvin said.

He feared more restaurants would close if additional funding sources weren't found.

“As these additional restrictions are imposed there needs to be done to provide economic and financial relief to these businesses — be it at the federal level, state level,” Melvin explained.

In Richmond, the city has allocated more than $6 million in CARES Act funding towards restaurants. A second round of Richmond Recovers $15,000 grants have also been made available for small businesses.

Business owners and local leaders are urging Congress to pass additional funding during the pandemic, as cases continue to rise across the Commonwealth.

A bipartisan stimulus proposal that includes an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which a group that includes Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia wants, could be unveiled this week.

Jason Alley, a longtime restaurateur and the mayor’s new provisional policy adviser, said funding is a “huge concern.”

“We are trying to make sure we are doing everything we can do to reduce barriers for people’s success,” he stated.

Mayor Levar Stoney also called on lawmakers to work together.

“As a city, we’ve done everything we can to use CARES dollars to bolster some of our businesses but it’s not enough,” Stoney said.

PPP loans helped Crocker keep his second restaurant Lady Nawlins on West Main Street afloat. But he, like many other business owners, are finding that the remaining funds are running out.

“If they don’t do something soon, the clock's ticking,” he said.

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