Locally-owned mom and pop bars and taverns in Pennsylvania painted a picture Wednesday of an industry struggling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Industry representatives shared their concerns during a state House Commerce Committee hearing where conversation covered Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 mitigation orders and possible minimum wage hikes.
“This industry is at the brink of extinction,” said Tom Tyler, president of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association and owner of McStew’s Irish Sports Pub in Bucks County.
Tyler shared about a half dozen stories from tavern and bar owners in the state who have suffered significant losses since March. He talked about empty bar seats and ballrooms, bills piling up and laid-off employees.
The hearing comes at a time when restaurants and bars in the state are operating under restrictions imposed by Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Retail food establishments are operating at 50% indoor capacity, no bar seating, an 11 p.m. booze sales cutoff and required sale of food with alcoholic beverage purchases.
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In other parts of the nation, states are easing some dine-in measures as cases of COVID drop. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday the state’s 11 p.m. state curfew for bars and restaurants is being lifted starting today. Massachusetts has also announced relaxed restrictions for restaurants.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Chuck Moran, association’s executive director, stressed Pennsylvania’s bars and taverns are operating in survival mode.
He said relief measures such as increasing discounts for establishments’ liquor purchases through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, allowing bar seating and ending the 11 p.m. early last call would help. He noted some small bars can’t survive without bar seating due to the state’s 50% indoor occupancy limit.
Social clubs including veterans and community groups said they also have been impacted by the pandemic and governor’s orders. Ted Mowatt, executive director Pennsylvania Federation of Fraternal and Social Organizations, said social clubs have been excluded from some of the aid including unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program money.
“Clubs seem to be forgotten in all of this,” he said.
During the hearing, the conversation steered toward Wolf’s proposal to raise minimum wages. The governor presented his proposed budget address today for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
“This business is not built for that model,” Tyler said, adding he would have to charge diners more for food and drink.
In addition, he said beer sales to-go would be impacted under a $15-an hour model to the point he would no longer be competitive with supermarkets that sell beer.
“It would just be crippling and ultimately sink my business,” he said.