'Death blow to their industry': Officials demand action as more York County restaurants close

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Vito's Pizza and Beer in Spring Garden Township, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

After 58 years of spinning dough and serving slices, Vito's Pizza and Beer in Spring Garden Township has closed because of challenges associated with COVID-19.

It's a problem seen across the commonwealth — and it's caught the attention of local officials, who are demanding help.

"The restaurant industry is disappearing, and we're seeing it locally," said state Rep. Seth Grove. "It's just not fair to them."

Grove, R-Dover Township, backed the recently vetoed House Bill 2513, which would have loosened pandemic restrictions on restaurants.

Vito's Pizza and Beer in Spring Garden Township, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 16. 

The two-bill package would have loosened indoor dining restrictions and allowed restaurant patrons to sit at bars. 

In a veto statement, Wolf said the bill "jeopardizes public health" and would allow restaurants to open at 100% capacity without having to follow guidelines.

Grove disagreed.

"That legislation provided predictability — and business owners don't have any predictability," Grove said. "That's why a lot of restaurants view that veto as a death blow to their industry."

The owners of Vito's Pizza and Beer said in a goodbye statement to the York County community that without a proper restaurant relief plan, staying open would be "insurmountable and impossible."

Vito's Pizza and Beer, as seen through the windows, in Spring Garden Township, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. The restaurant is closing after 58 years of business, citing challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"We've endured the ever-changing regulations and occupancy restrictions and the continued targeted assault on our industry," a Facebook post from Vito's reads. "After 58 years it's sadly time to say goodbye." 

On Thursday, Vito's Pizza will be hosting a news event with Jim DeLisio, the president of the York County Tavern Association. The discussion will be about the COVID-19 "financial crisis" and how it's affecting restaurants and bars, according to Chuck Moran, the executive director for the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.

The event is scheduled at 10 a.m. outside Vito's, located at 1734 S. Queen St.

Moran said he thinks Wolf's recent veto was "counter productive," adding that bars are trained to keep people safe.

"Everybody's sales compared to last year are way down," Moran said. 

Sharing similar sentiments, State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill said she remains "extremely frustrated" over the "very little sympathy or empathy" the Wolf administration has shown to protect small businesses.

"Restaurants like Vito's Pizza, they're the ones who sponsor your Little League team. They donate gift cards when the local charity has an auction," said Phillips-Hill, R-York Township. "These are our neighbors and friends."

Despite Wolf's veto of the recent House bill, he introduced on Oct. 22 a plan to offer $20 million in relief to the state’s hospitality industry.

In addition, Wolf said the state intends to waive liquor license fees in 2021 for more than 16,000 restaurants and bars, clubs, caterers and hotels, The Associated Press reported.

The plan was approved by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on Wednesday morning.

Moran said the approval is just a "drop in the bucket in terms of what is needed."

"There's not a day that goes by where I don't get an email from someone, and they're just desperately watching their livelihoods go down the drain," Moran said. "We certainly hope that when Legislature comes back in November, they will continue to push for small restaurants."

Phillips-Hill added that she's worried that additional funding wouldn't be enough if restaurants are only able to operate at limited capacity.

State orders in July required restaurants that were reopening after the pandemic shutdown to reduce indoor dining capacity to 25%, limit on-premises alcohol consumption to meals only and limit indoor gatherings to 25 people.

The capacity was increased to 50% in September, according to a news release from the Wolf administration.

In response to the initial restrictions, businesses such as The White Rose Restaurant Group closed its restaurants.

On Tuesday, however, the organization announced on Facebook its intent to reopen all of its restaurants, including the White Rose Bar and Grill, Valencia Ballroom and Rockfish Public House.

"I look at this, and I say the governor continues to trust big corporate entities," Phillips-Hill said. "And once again, when our little, locally small-owned businesses need a life raft, the governor throws them a cinderblock."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.