WILMINGTON — A group of Wilmington-area restaurant owners is asking North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to shut down restaurants statewide and allow the dispersal of temporary unemployment benefits to employees.
Increasing restrictions on public gatherings
On Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump and federal officials called for U.S. residents to limit public gatherings to 10 or less, including at private establishments and in their own homes. The impact on bars and restaurants is likely to be profound and, while no restauranteur wants to be shuttered, being closed down by the government may actually be the lesser of two evils.
The increasingly restrictive recommendations, even if they are not backed with mandatory federal or local curfews, will undoubtedly hurt the food and beverage industry.
While social media campaigns have suggested buying gift certificates to help keep local establishments up and running, the reality is that this won’t support the demand that keeps hourly kitchen employees on the clock, and even to-go orders (which require kitchen workers) won’t support waitstaff, who make their livelihood from tips. In the Wilmington area, where the service industry employs a significant portion of the population, the potential economic and social impact could be considerable.
Currently, both federal and state legislation is being considered to help alleviate this impact. Locally, State Representative Deb Butler and State Senator Harper Peterson confirmed there are talks underway to help support both small businesses and their employees; these would be state-wide efforts and would require broad bipartisan cooperation to pass.
‘Please shut us down’ for the ‘common good’
In the meantime, several prominent restaurant owners from downtown Wilmington and the surrounding area have signed a letter asking Governor Roy Cooper to officially shut down all restaurants and bars — the move might seem counterintuitive, but it would help release temporary unemployment benefits for employees. These workers would otherwise essentially be furloughed and stuck in limbo: no longer scheduled to work, and thus not paid, but not technically fired and thus ineligible for state benefits.
The letter was signed by James Doss (Rx Restaurant & Bar), Billy Mellon – (manna, Earnest Money & Sons, Sweets Bakery), Christi Ferretti (Pine Valley Market), Tommy Mills (Little Pond Catering), Craig Love (Surfhouse, Carolina Beach), Keith Rhodes (Catch), Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton (Love, Lydia). Other restauranteurs are being asked to sign on if they agree.
The letter reads as follows:
As restaurant owners in the Wilmington area, we have all done our part to help curb this public health crisis by taking every precaution for our guests and our staff to protect the health and well-being of all of us. The current trajectory is unsustainable. In light of evolving events, we feel it is pertinent to shut down restaurants in our state for the greater good, to protect both the public and our staff. Please help us by issuing mandatory closures so that our staff can begin receiving the temporary unemployment benefits they need to sustain them. Restaurants operate on notoriously slim margins, and with compromised business and health concerns, we cannot carry the financial burden of this alone. Governor Cooper, we need your help. Please #shutusdown.
Editor’s note: Please stay tuned tomorrow for updates on state and federal efforts to help protect service industry workers from the impact of Covid-19.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001