WILMINGTON — Downtown businesses will suffer in the coming weeks following Governor Roy Cooper’s mandate closing restaurants and bars to dine-in customers across the state.
In response, Downtown Business Alliance (DBA) President Terry Espy announced Tuesday certain measures the organization will be taking to support downtown bars and restaurants, including placing ‘Open for Delivery and Pick-up Only’ signs on front windows, reserving parking spaces and loading zones as ‘Pick-Up and Delivery Zones,’ and promoting pick-up and delivery services of at least 40 downtown businesses.
Espy also confirmed that restaurants and bottle shops may sell unopened wine and beer via delivery or pick-up service.
You can find a list of downtown establishments that remain open for business, hosted by Wilmington Downtown, Inc. (WDI), including restaurants and retail. You can find information about other Wilmington-area businesses in this online database (which includes information on how to add your business’s info to the list).
The DBA’s response to Cooper’s executive order, which went into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday, is not focused on other restaurants and bars located outside of the Wilmington downtown area, according to Espy, because such businesses are beyond the organization’s scope. DBA receives a small amount from the city, roughly $10,000, but it is mainly member-supported.
Supporting downtown businesses
The efforts came after the DBA discussed the shutdown’s impacts to downtown Wilmington with its board of directors, ABC and ALE officials, City of Wilmington officials, the New Hanover County Health Department, N.C. Senator Harper Peterson, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Susi Hamilton, and WDI.
“Many restaurant owners have reached out with concerns regarding the potential of forced closings,” Espy said. “Most had stocked heavily for the St. Patty’s Day weekend and with the cancellation of the parade and the festival it was a significant problem.”
She said numerous restaurant owners confirmed they didn’t want to shut down completely and would focus on pick-up and delivery options.
“We felt it was best to expedite a support system that could best serve them,” Espy said.
The DBA coordinated with Chance Dunbar, the city’s parking manager, to gain permission to bag two meters at the end of each central downtown block and identify all loading zones as ‘Pick-Up and Delivery Zones,” according to Espy. She said the DBA placed 40 green signs, labeled ‘Open for Delivery and Pick-Up Only,’ on 40 downtown restaurants, while also placing each restaurant on a list to advertise their services.
She noted several business owners had expressed concerns regarding unemployment benefits for servers, bartenders, cooks, and others who will be out of work during the shutdown.
Governor Cooper’s executive order issued Monday made state unemployment benefits more widely available, aiding workers who have lost wages in restaurants and meeting places due to mass gathering restrictions. The order’s changes to state unemployment benefits include:
- It removes the one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment payment for those workers who lose their jobs;
- It removes the requirement that a person must be actively looking for another job during this time when many potential employers are closed and social distancing guidelines are in effect;
- It allows employees who lose their jobs or, in certain cases have their hours reduced due to Covid-19 to apply for unemployment benefits.
- It directs that employers will not be held responsible for benefits paid as a direct result of these COVID-19 claims.
- And it waives the requirement that people must apply for benefits in person; workers can apply for benefits online or by phone.
‘A sad day in history’
Savorez owner and executive chef Sam Cahoon, who posted his own take-out and delivery sign rather than using the green DBA sign, has made dramatic cuts in response to the Covid-19 shutdown.
“We’ve pretty much laid off our entire staff, that way they’re eligible for the unemployment benefits,” Cahoon said, standing outside his restaurant on the corner of Chestnut and 4th Street. “They understand once things are back up and running, they’ll have jobs.”
He plans to use tips earned from deliveries and pick-ups to create an emergency support fund for staff, and will cook free meals and hand out toilet paper for any laid-off employees in-need. Although the Savorez bank accounts would take a hit in coming weeks, because he runs a small business with little overhead he expects to stay afloat using prior savings.
“We’re at a point where every little bit counts. The business revenue will go towards generating revenue fo running the business, paying our bills, and paying the staff we do have on hand,” Cahoon said.
He also pointed to Cooper’s request on Monday seeking federal relief for business owners affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Trump Administration and U.S. Congress are currently working out a potential $850-billion economic stimulus package.
On Front Street, Slainte Irish Pub owner Misha Sobol was dealing with a significantly reduced Saint Patrick’s Day crowd on Tuesday as the 5 p.m. shutdown deadline came and went.
“It’s a sad day in the history of the bar industry,” Sobol said. “It’s the first time in my 46 years I’ve had to close a bar. It’s the first time Slainte has closed; we hadn’t even closed during the hurricane. However, it’s not about money, it’s about the health of the people … If you’re not healthy, you cannot make money.”
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