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Northeast Ohio Restaurants, Retailers Unsure Of Weathering Another Shutdown

Landmark Smokehouse
Gayle S. Putrich
Landmark Smokehouse made a significant investment to set up a patio over the summer and add heavy-duty heaters for the winter months, but the space would go unused if Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine closes restaurants again because of the current spike in COVID-19 cases.

Local restaurant and shop owners are concerned about the impact another potential shutdown would have on their businesses after Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday the state may order another round of closures, if the current coronavirus surge continues.

The state will evaluate virus numbers again Nov. 19 before deciding whether to shut down restaurants, bars and fitness centers.

Targeting the restaurant and bar industry as the source of the surge is unfair, said Landmark Smokehouse co-owner Constantine Katsaros.

“We’re not always quite sure as to where the spread is coming from, and to just unilaterally pin it on the restaurant and bar industries just seems misplaced,” Katsaros said.

The restaurant, on Clifton Boulevard at the edge of Cleveland and Lakewood, set up a patio over the summer, he said, and is adding heavy-duty heaters to keep people reasonably warm there in the winter months. It’s been a significant investment to create a space for people to eat outside, he said.

“Given all the safety precautions we’ve been putting into place in conjunction with the city and the state, we feel it’s very inappropriate at this time to shut everybody down again and go through this process again,” Katsaros said. “It’s going to be very difficult for folks to reopen after another shutdown.”

Local restaurants are still trying to get back to where they were after the previous shutdown, said Joy Harlor, co-owner of Le Petit Triangle Café on Fulton Road in Ohio City. Harlor spent the afternoon making changes to the café’s menu to create takeout options for the holidays and considering what other alterations might need to be made to survive.

“We’re on year 14 of this business. We’ve worked really hard on it. We’ve put a lot into it,” Harlor said. “Just to be like, ‘Sorry guys, you’re shut down, fire everyone,’ I feel it’s a little unfair.”

Harlor is anticipating the shutdown will happen, she said, and it’s making her nervous. Le Petit Triangle has been adding outdoor seating and bringing on more staff over recent months.

“We’re almost close to where we were before the shutdown, and a majority of that group will have to get laid off if we don’t have service,” Harlor said.

For some, the restrictions in place are not doing enough. In University Heights, Bialy’s Bagels owner Rachel Gross has been hoping DeWine would take more concrete steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 because her business and so many others won’t be able to return to normal until the virus is gone.

“Even though we’re able to stay open and operate, we’re definitely doing less volume than we were pre-COVID,” Gross said.

But wide-scale shutdowns for the restaurant industry will harm local businesses, she said, which have already made significant investments to change storefronts and the way they do business in light of coronavirus demands.

 The government has not provided adequate assistance to assist the industry in taking those steps, said Melissa Khoury, co-owner of the Slavic Village specialty butcher shop Saucisson.

“Throwing up some grants and making it like the Hunger Games for [the money], is not really fair,” Khoury said. “How do you justify that?”

Rather than putting a wide-reaching shutdown in place, Khoury said, the state should spend time focusing on the individual businesses that are not complying with mandates.

“There are a lot of businesses that are doing right,” Khoury said. “That’s the hard part, because you know there are people really working hard to keep people safe, and then that there’s a few businesses out there that are not doing the right thing.”

DeWine also announced Wednesday the creation of a unit within the Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) that will issue penalties for businesses not complying with state public health orders. The penalties could include fines or mandated closures.

For local businesses already struggling, that’s a big risk, said Gordon Geiger, owner of the retail shop Geiger’s. The Lakewood-based storefronts already comply with the statewide orders, Geiger said, but the BWC unit could provide additional motivation for businesses.

“The prospect of BWC coming out and citing us or shutting us down for a day, that’s not an option for us,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to comply.”

Winter is a big season for the shop, Geiger said, which sells winter apparel and sporting equipment. The store is using online sales and curbside pickup to provide options for customers who don’t want to come in, he said, and masks and hand sanitizer are available inside.

“Our customers will be safe and sound in our stores, come fall and winter,” Geiger said.

DeWine expanded the statewide mask mandate Wednesday, placing the responsibility of enforcement directly on store owners and their employees. That’s the wrong way to go about things, said Patty Raymond, owner of the iconic Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop. Enforcing the mask mandate in the past few months has caused stress for her employees, Raymond said.

“I have high school kids there,” Raymond said. “I honestly can’t afford to have people quit because customers are yelling at them for doing a job that, in my opinion, isn’t theirs to do.”

The Popcorn Shop has installed Plexiglas barriers and requires face coverings for staff and customers. But employees have had difficulty enforcing the mask mandate because they never know how a customer will react, she said. Handling violations of the order shouldn’t fall on workers, she said.

“You never knew what the customer’s reaction was going to be, if they were going to put the mask on or get angry,” Raymond said. “When it got to the point where we were crying at the end of our shifts, we actually took that stance ourselves.”

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