NJ Restaurants and Small Businesses Feeling Desperate, Hoping for Help
Even before Gov. Phil Murphy handed down strict rules Monday for the operating hours of many businesses throughout the Garden State — shuttering some entirely — many companies in New Jersey said they were being negatively impacted by the coronavirus health crisis.
Now more businesses, even in counties where no positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported to health authorities, are bracing for detrimental effects on their bottom lines, and hoping for a lifeline from government that gives them and their workers some support in this time of crisis.
"I did not expect anything like this. I'm highly disappointed," said Tony Rivoli, owner of Riv's Toms River Hub and Rivoli's Grill & Chill, located in Howell.
Rivoli, along with bar owners and restaurateurs across New Jersey, learned midday Monday that, for the time being, Monday evening would be the last time guests could enjoy a drink or meal on site. Restaurants are going take-out and delivery only under a state order. All theaters, casinos, gyms, racetracks and other non-essential entertainment businesses are to close until further notice. Retail businesses will have an 8 p.m. curfew.
Rivoli take-out and delivery isn't enough to be worth keeping his establishments open.
"For them to shut down your business and put a lot of people out of work — they should have had a plan in place to go along with it," Rivoli said. "No one asked for input. No one asked how we felt about anything."
Vito Pavone, owner of three eateries in Middlesex County, is shutting down operations completely for his two bar/restaurants, General Saloon in Old Bridge and Brunswick Grove in East Brunswick. Takeout and delivery are popular options for patrons of Dusal's Restaurant, so Pavone said the Milltown pizzeria will continue to operate in a limited capacity.
Pavone said he's concerned for all of his staff members that live paycheck to paycheck, especially if the shutdown should last longer than a couple weeks.
"I can lose all my employees. I can lose all my customer base. I can fall behind on my bills, personally," Pavone said.
In a survey of members conducted between March 13 and 15 — before the new restrictions were in place, but as public officials were already urging social distancing and avoiding crowds — the New Jersey Business & Industry Association found 93% of respondents had already been impacted by the health crisis, or anticipated being negatively impacted in the near future. Due to hardships related to coronavirus, most respondents said they'd have to cut costs — in the form of staff or benefits, for example — in order to stay afloat.
"While there's a lot of uncertainty facing New Jersey businesses right now in the wake of the virus, one thing is clear — that our businesses are highly concerned about their overall stability in order to hang on, as well as the welfare of their employees," said New Jersey Business and Industry Association President Michele Siekerka. "What is unprecedented is the depth and breadth of this situation, that it's impacting all business, all industry, all geography, all across the state of New Jersey."
Siekerka said the association is pleased so far with the efforts of policymakers and state agencies to address economic impacts the illness is having on New Jersey's job creators and their workers.
In an emergency session Monday, the state Assembly approved several bills related to the pandemic, including a measure that creates a program through which workers can claim lost wages due to COVID-19. The state Senate could vote on these bills as early as this week.
On the federal front, low-interest disaster recovery loans are being made available to small businesses severely impacted by the situation. The Small Business Administration is working directly with states' governors to provide loans, up to $2 million each, to small businesses.
Independent of any government action, OceanFirst Bank on Monday announced a borrower relief program for businesses. In response to virus concerns, the Toms River-based bank said it's offering to defer certain loan payments for up to 90 days for business borrowers of specific categories, such as restaurants/caterers and certain retail establishments.