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'Dismal' outlook: York City Restaurant Association lobbies for help

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

In response to statewide COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, outdoor dining has become the norm for restaurants, including some that have never offered open-air service before.

But unexpected costs come along with the change, and one local restaurateur is lobbying on behalf of all York City restaurants that need a hand to get started.

Mandy Arnold, owner of The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar and president and CEO of GAVIN advertising agency, is asking the York County Industrial Development Authority to consider establishing a $45,000 grant program to help small York City restaurants buy outdoor dining furniture.

"The thing you have to remember is that when you’re dealing with the outside elements and you’re moving tables and chairs around, you really need to invest in something that will last," Arnold said.

It costs about $1,000 to buy a single four-person table and accompanying chairs that are sturdy enough to hold up outdoors for an extended season of open air dining, she said.

And for small restaurant with only a handful of employees, that's a lot of money to come up with, she said.

In a presentation to the YCIDA on Tuesday, Arnold, who represents the York City Restaurant Association, explained that the holiday season is usually what keeps a restaurant's ledgers in the black for the rest of the year.

Erin and Ben McGlaughlin, of York City, dine at The Handsome Cab in York City, Friday, June 12, 2020. Restaurants and bars are now able to operate at 50 percent capacity as York County enters into the green phase of Gov. Wolf's plan to reopen Pennsylvania following nearly three months of restrictions placed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Dawn J. Sagert photo

This year, restaurants are expecting a "dismal" holiday season, she said.

These small restaurants need community support to help them get what they need to accommodate guests outdoors while maintaining social distancing and keeping a supply of personal protective equipment for staff, Arnold said.

In an interview Wednesday, Arnold emphasized that she'd like the grant to help all city restaurants, not just the downtown establishments on North George Street, often referred to as "restaurant row."

Chair Jack Kay said having a vibrant collection of restaurants and entertainment venues in the core of the city would likely help the YCIDA in its long-term goal of redeveloping Downtown York and reopening the Yorktowne Hotel.

He said the development committee discussed whether establishing a grant for restaurants would be in the purview of the YCIDA as an authority.

"We felt that it was appropriate and it would be something that is in the interest of economic development in general, and the Yorktowne Hotel project," Kay said of considering Arnold's pitch.

Solicitor Ronald Hershner said it's generally OK for an authority to establish a grant program.

But the authority would need the approval of Members 1st Federal Credit Union, which is financing the Yorktowne Hotel renovation, before committing to any project that would direct funds away from the hotel, Hershner said.

Other board members mentioned that there likely will be an opportunity for restaurant owners to apply for a portion of the $40.5 million in CARES Act funding allocated to York County to offset the costs of adapting to COVID-19 business requirements.

Kay suggested the board revisit the topic for further discussion after gathering more information.

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