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EDITORIAL: Bar and restaurant owners need help now, not more political posturing

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Pennsylvania's hospitality industry has suffered large losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Gov. Tom Wolf has offered several proposals to aid the state's restaurants and bars.
  • Those proposals have been met with indifference or opposition from trade groups and Republicans.
The Left Bank in York was closed for nearly four months during the coronavirus pandemic. It is one of many restaurants hard hit by coronavirus restrictions.

Some stories resonate more with our readers than others.

One story that really appears to have hit home was the announcement that Vito's Pizza and Beer has closed after 58 years in business.

Vito’s was a Spring Garden Township institution. It was one of those businesses that folks in the York area thought would always be there. Now it’s no longer open.

And Vito’s is not alone. A number of other businesses have shuttered while struggling with the state restrictions imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many others are struggling mightily and are on the brink of closing.

The restaurant and bar industry has been hit particularly hard.

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Vito’s owners, in a Facebook post, cited “ever-changing regulations and occupancy restrictions and the continued targeted assault on our industry" as the reason for its closing. The post added that without a "proper" restaurant relief plan, the challenges associated with staying open were "insurmountable and impossible for us to overcome."

A hard balancing act: It is easy to empathize with the plight of Vito's and other restaurant and bar owners. They are seeing the businesses they’ve spent years or decades building destroyed over the course of a few months because of an invisible virus.

What is hard is trying to determine how to help those owners while also trying to keep the general public safe and healthy.

Wolf offers some relief: The Wolf administration recently announced a plan to offer $20 million in relief to the state’s beleaguered hospitality industry by waiving liquor license fees in 2021 for more than 16,000 restaurants and bars, clubs, caterers and hotels.

Wolf offers $20 million relief plan for bars and restaurants

It’s a reasonable idea and promising start in helping the state’s restaurant and bars. But it’s just a start. Most everyone knows that much more is needed.

Still, the political posturing started immediately. Trade groups immediately called the amount woefully inadequate. They are right, of course. The amount can’t come close to make up for their staggering losses, but every journey must start somewhere.

Aid package: Wolf has also been pressing the General Assembly to approve a a more substantial $100 million aid package for the hospitality industry and take other steps to provide relief. The money would come from Pennsylvania’s share of the federal coronavirus relief law, of which about $1 billion remains unspent.

Again, it sounds reasonable. It's time to spend that money. House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman, however, offered a vague statement saying legislative Republicans will be “examining the best uses of that money given our $4 billion budget deficit and the many areas of state and local government impacted by COVID-19.”

Gottesman also called Wolf’s liquor fee plan a “half measure of help,” saying the state’s hospitality industry is threatened by the governor’s “overbroad and onerous restrictions that are backed neither by science nor common sense.”

Again, more political grandstanding. Well, now is not the time for vague statements and partisan bickering. Now is the time for action.

Wolf needs to step up, too: Last week, Wolf correctly vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill that would have let restaurants and bars reopen at up to full capacity.

Pa. House fails to override Wolf's veto on restaurant capacity

Such a broad reopening would be foolhardy during the current coronavirus surge. Still, Wolf does need to step up and he should loosen his restrictions in targeted ways to help the hospitality industry.

Our bars and restaurants desperately need help now. They can’t afford to wait while our politicians argue.

We don’t need to see any more stories like the one about Vito’s.