Leaders in the state’s restaurant industry are hopeful as thousands of New York eateries, diners and bars can pre-register this weekend to apply for up to $10 million in federal aid to assist with economic hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Businesses can apply for up to $10 million through the American Rescue Plan’s $28 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Pre-registration is currently available through the Small Business Association’s online portal. More than 50,000 people pre-registered within the first two hours of the site going live Friday.
Applications can start to be submitted at noon Monday.
“The opening of registration Monday at noon is a very good sign for this industry,” Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, said Friday. “As I’m sure everyone knows, the public health restrictions that were imposed on restaurants and taverns and other places like that were economically devastating. Sure, much, if not all, of it was necessary in order to protect the overall public health, but that doesn’t take away from the economic crisis.”
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, based on the Restaurants Act, will provide businesses with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location.
Recipients are not required to repay the funding as long as funds are used for eligible uses no later than March 11, 2023. The uses include business mortgage expenses, rent payments, outdoor seating construction or purchasing masks and other safety equipment.
The minimum award to a business is $1,000.
The first 21 days of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will be dedicated to priority businesses, or defined as businesses that are at least 51% owned by one or more individuals who are women, veterans or socially and economically disadvantaged. The SBA defines socially disadvantaged as individuals who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias.
Eateries, bars and similar businesses have sustained ongoing financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 8,000 restaurants have been forced to close since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Roughly 366,000 jobs in the state’s leisure and hospitality industry were lost between December 2019 and December 2020, according to the state Department of Labor.
Restaurants nationwide registered a low $30 billion in revenue last April, down more than $116 billion between March and June 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association and U.S. Census Bureau data. Sales rebounded but remained $18 billion short of pre-COVID-19 sales through the summer.
Wexler thanked U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., for prioritizing a restaurant bailout fund in the next federal COVID relief measure after Democrats took control of Congress this session.
Previous federal COVID-19 relief measures passed last year, including the HEROES and CARES acts, included broad relief for small businesses, but not a specific relief fund for restaurants and similar establishments.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, voiced support for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund on Twitter late Friday morning. Stefanik voted against the American Rescue Plan with her Republican colleagues last spring.
Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that bar seating in the city will be allowed starting May 3, and also said the statewide midnight COVID curfew for bars and restaurants will end May 17 for outdoor seating and May 31 for indoor dining.
The state Legislature voted to end the governor’s controversial food-with-booze COVID-19 rule, barring customers from drinking without ordering something to eat.
Cuomo’s rule requires state eateries — allowed to serve patrons indoors at 50% capacity outside New York City — to stop on-premises dining between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Establishments are permitted to stay open later for takeout and delivery.
The governor implemented the rules last fall to curb the spread of COVID-19 ahead of expected virus spikes after the holiday season, which started with Thanksgiving on Nov. 26.
Cuomo continued his rollback of coronavirus restrictions Friday announcing New York City restaurants can increase indoor seating to 75% capacity starting next week.
Upstate bars and restaurants have been permitted to operate indoor dining at 50% capacity since June.
“After a long and incredibly difficult fight, New York State is winning the war against COVID-19, and that means it’s time to loosen some restrictions put in place to protect the public health and help our local businesses,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement Friday. “There’s no doubt that restaurants have been among the pandemic’s hardest hit businesses, and New York City’s thriving restaurant industry has found it challenging to keep staff and maintain profits. We’re easing restrictions on restaurants, personal care services and gyms to put more money in the pockets of small business owners and working people in New York City, which was hit so hard by the pandemic but, I have no doubt, will come back stronger than ever.”
The Assembly Minority Conference introduced a resolution to rescind the bar and restaurant restrictions March 10 after speaking with small business owners affected by the pandemic restrictions.
“It took more than six weeks for our Democrat colleagues to finally follow our lead,” Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay, R-Pulaski, said in a prepared statement Friday. “Removing the arbitrary barriers on these establishments is the first step in what will be a long road to recovery. ... Moving forward, the Legislature must continue to reassert itself as an equal branch of government, review and eliminate overly-burdensome executive mandates and take on a greater role in planning and executing the state’s recovery. Anything shy of that is a disservice to the residents and businesses trying to get back on their feet. The Legislature can, and must, do more for the people of this state.”
The state’s coronavirus infection rate dipped to 1.93% over a seven-day average Friday. The restaurant industry will stabilize and advance within one to two years if the state’s coronavirus positivity rate continues to decline and the restrictions rollback continues.
“There’s economic data to suggest we’re literally about to explode, but I’ve heard there’s going to be an explosion as we open up,” Wexler said. “There’s still a lot of hesitancy. A 12-24 month recovery period for this industry ... in two years, things might be back to where they used to be. Things are much better than they were awhile ago, but we still have millions of people who are unemployed. We have a long way back to go. I’m an optimist and I want to be optimistic, but we have to be realistic about it.”
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.