HAMBURG, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on many businesses, but it has been especially devastating to New York's restaurant industry.
"It is important for everybody to understand how important help is for the industry right now and how urgently it is needed," said Melissa Fleischut, president & CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association.
The association conducted a survey recently that found 63.6% of surveyed restaurants are likely to close by the end of 2020. The results were based on responses from 1,042 restaurateurs across the state.
"54.8% said they would be forced to close by November without additional federal funding," added Flieschut.
Restaurants are facing a number of issues from the loss of income during the mandatory shutdown period, customers who are afraid to come back, restrictions on indoor dining, and insurance policies that are refusing to pay for business interruption due to the coronavirus.
"What we are seeing is all the claims are being denied, whether or not you have that virus language in your clause," explained the restaurant association president.
The NYS Restaurant Association is now pushing for federal assistance in the form of grant money.
In addition, the organization is seeking help in getting insurance companies to pay Covid-19 'disruption to business' claims.
It is also calling for a loosening of indoor dining restrictions during the coming cold weather months. In WNY, those restrictions currently mandate a 50% capacity limit at restaurants with an allowance for outdoor dining. No indoor dining is allowed in the New York City area yet.
"Just knowing that going forward is very scary for a lot of restaurant owners because at 50% capacity, there is no way for you to make up the sales to cover your expenses," commented Fleisschut.
"Every day I come with my hopes that things are going to change," said Zenia Munger, manager of the Comfort Zone Cafe in the Village of Hamburg.
The small family-owned restaurant has been in operation for 23 years and could seat 75 customers before the pandemic. With the COVID rules now in place and limitations with its physical space for social distancing, it is only allowed to seat 25 people indoors.
"We have definitely had challenges with being able to seat people and turn tables," explained Munger.
While Comfort Zone has tried to offer outdoor dining, a storm damaged a makeshift gazebo in its parking lot. And chairs and a table on a front sidewalk have no cover from bad weather.
"As it gets colder and it gets rainier, it will become a bigger challenge if we are not able to seat more people inside," Munger told 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly.