IW restaurants feeling effects of COVID-19 containment

Published 11:39 pm Friday, March 20, 2020

STEPHEN FALESKI/STAFF WRITER

DIANA MCFARLAND/EDITOR

 

WINDSOR

Restaurants in Isle of Wight County are already feeling the effects of Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement on Tuesday of new measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which included a mandate that all eating establishments in the state either close or restrict their capacity to no more than 10 patrons.

In Windsor, Anna’s Ristorante Italiano & Pizzeria owner Sal Anallo said business has fallen 60 to 70 percent so far, adding that the restaurant is currently closed to the public and offering takeout only. Manuel Vasquez, co-owner of Costa Del Sol Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, located near the Windsor Food Lion, also informed the paper that since the governor’s order, business has been reduced by about half, and is “still going down.”

As of a few days ago, Costa Del Sol was still open to the public at the 10-patron cap — but is now still offering only takeout and deliveries.

Vasquez added that he has had to reduce the hours of many of his restaurant’s employees, though so far, no one has been laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, he plans to hire an additional employee to handle deliveries.

Joe’s Pizza & Pasta on Carrsville Highway has likewise needed to reduce its staffing since the governor’s order. According to Estela Ramos, the restaurant’s new owner, Joe’s is down to one cook at a time and one server at a time. No one has been laid off yet, but employees have had their hours cut.

The restaurant is still seating patrons inside, albeit limited to no more than 10 at a time, and is also still offering carryout and delivery options.

Smithfield Station in Smithfield is feeling a double whammy from the virus, as restaurant and hotel business has plummeted.

Co-owner Randy Pack estimates that just days into the mass shutdowns, hotel bookings are down about 78 percent.

When the virus storm began to strike at the end of the week, March 12, Pack said they had no one staying in any of their more than 40 rooms.

“There’s no travel, no business travel, no leisure travel, nothing,” he said, adding that it’s already resulted in some employee layoffs.

By March 18, and following Northam’s order to restrict customers to 10 people, Pack said they had four people for lunch when they normally have 100 or more. In addition, all the clubs that usually meet at the Station, as well as numerous catering jobs, have been cancelled.

He said they are providing curb-side service, but not deliveries. Pack was counting on the upcoming favorable weekend weather forecast, as outside dining is not affected.

He said the most frustrating part is the lack of concrete guidelines as they seem to change daily, and it makes coming up with a plan to weather the storm even more difficult.

“Tell us what you expect,” Pack said. “I think our government is doing the best they can, but they don’t know what to do.”

Chris Cristou, owner of Cockeyed Rooster in Smithfield, is offering take-out, curb service, as well as delivery.

He’s already cut employee hours and is now reviewing store hours too as traffic has noticeably slowed down.

After the governor’s order, Christou said he rearranged the tables in the dining room to accommodate the 10-person rule. Staff is also sanitizing everything regularly, he said, adding that on-table hand sanitizer has always been a feature at his restaurant.

Given that hand sanitizer is one hot item these days, Christou jokes that he has connections — mainly with a neighboring store.

“When I heard the 18-wheeler pull up, I ran down there,” he said.

Christou doesn’t know how long his business can sustain the impact of COVID-19, and thinks it’s up to the government to be effective about its aid during this crisis. He’s also wondering how business insurers will view this situation when it comes to claims.

In the meantime, Christou is hoping that his location will help, rather than his restaurant being in a bigger city.

“It’s fortunate because we’re a small town. They have bigger issues,” he said.

“The County and its Economic Development Department understand that the New Coronavirus (COVID-19) is already presenting significant, extended challenges to our businesses,” said Isle of Wight Economic Development Director Chris Morello in a Wednesday morning press release. “Economic Development will remain committed to providing support and resources to those affected. While county offices will be closed to the public beginning Wednesday, March 18, our office is still operating, and we are closely monitoring COVID-19 developments.”

Morello added that while there is no local economic disaster relief program as of yet, the U.S. Small Business Association plans to offer low-interest federal disaster loans to provide working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the coronavirus in certain states and U.S. territories. Following a request Northam submitted on Wednesday, the SBA — on Thursday — approved an economic injury disaster loan declaration for Virginia, meaning small businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout the commonwealth affected by the COVID-19 public health crisis can now apply for loans of up to $2 million from the SBA to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other expenses. To submit a loan application through the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, business owners are advised to visit disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.

Also as of Thursday, businesses impacted by COVID-19 can also request to defer the payment of state sales tax due on Friday, March 20, for 30 days. When granted, businesses will be able to file no later than April 20, 2020 with a waiver of any penalties.

The governor has also requested that the Virginia Department of Taxation to extend the due date of payment of Virginia individuals and corporate income taxes. While filing deadlines remain the same, the due date for individual and corporate income tax will now be June 1, 2020. In a Thursday press release, the Office of the Governor advised that interest will still accrue, so taxpayers who are able to pay by the original deadlines should still do so.

Isle of Wight Economic Development has also launched a web page, https://www.insidetheisle.com/2020/03/17/covid-19-business-resources/, dedicated to providing up-to-date information about the coronavirus and resources available to business owners.

Regional economic development organizations such as the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance and the Hampton Roads Workforce Council are working together with local chambers of commerce to monitor the COVID-19 situation and its economic impacts, Morello added. According to Morello, these agencies are waiting to see how the federal government will react to the situation.