Chamber News

Needham / Newton
December 10, 2020 Likes Comments

Restaurants aren't just about 'raucous celebrating'

Gov. Charlie Baker’s rollback of the state’s economy to Phase 3, Step 1 drew plenty of heat yesterday -- not for what he did, but for not being aggressive enough.

Leading the way was a Globe editorial, calling for the complete shut-down of indoor dining statewide.
 
Former Congressional candidate Jesse Mermell made a similar plea in an op-ed titled “Gov. Baker, Now Is Not The Time For Incrementalism” for WBUR’s Cognoscenti.
 
Both expressed empathy for our restaurateurs and other small businesses. Both said our governor should be doing more to urge his own party to approve federal small business relief (although it’s not clear how; considering that his own party can’t even agree who the president-elect is).
 
And Mermell was absolutely right when she wrote that Baker should be doing more to advance legislation that's been languishing on Beacon Hill for months; including the Distressed Restaurant Fund and caps on third party delivery fees. (And shame on our Legislature for letting both items sit since July.)
 
And, of course, they're right about how out of control the virus is right now and the need to flatten the curve and lessen burden on our hospitals.
 
But there's more to it than that
 
But there’s also important differences between shuttering businesses now and when Baker closed everything down in the spring.
 
We know a lot more about COVID-19 now. The data says restaurants aren’t significant contributors spread; but that the social engagements people attend, perhaps in lieu of going to a restaurant (where safety measures are enforced) are.
 
Also, back during the first COVID wave, businesses and workers had a safety net, including the Paycheck Protection Program and other about to expire initiatives, that made it possible for these businesses to survive.
 
For too many restaurants, closing now, without any relief, likely means closing forever. According to a Mass Restaurant Association survey, 49 percent of Massachusetts operators say it is unlikely they will still be in business six months from now, if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government.
 
One more thing to consider
 
And then there’s this perspective offered by Karen Masterson, proprietor of Johnny’s Luncheonette in Newton Centre.
 
Masterson notes that, while most of us think of restaurants as places for social interaction, they can also be a respite for individuals coping with isolation.
 
“People need to check on their judgment of indoor dining,” she said. “It's not all for raucous celebrating.
 
“One customer I spoke to yesterday was saddened at the thought that she wouldn't be able to come in if indoor dining was discontinued,” Masterson wrote on Facebook. “She sits in a booth by herself and enjoys a glass of Prosecco and salad with plexiglass dividers between the next booth and well distanced from any other diners.
 
“She has acknowledged to me many times the positive mental health benefits she gets from dining with us - the conversations, while brief, with staff and other regulars are a shining light in her week that is mostly one of isolation. We are grateful to be able to provide these experiences for many of our diners who find themselves needing respite during the pandemic.
 
“Restaurants are essential businesses not just because we provide food, we are also a place where someone who is feeling alone can stop in and be seen and heard, even for just the time it takes to have a sandwich or a bowl of soup. And yes, she was back in today, and thankfully we were able to celebrate that we can continue to welcome her!”
 
Another closing
 
We’re not just losing independent business. Yesterday I noted that Panera Bread in Newton Centre will be closing on Tuesday after serving as a regular meeting spot for so many for a decade. (Jenna Fisher at Patch reports that all employees have been offered jobs at other Paneras.)
 
Now we learn from the Swellesley Report that the Gap in Wellesley Square is closing at end of the month.
 
Losing these chain stores may sting less than losing mom and pops. But they still leave our downtowns with empty store fronts, displace workers, cut into tax revenues and hurt neighboring merchants through reduced foot traffic.
 
Tuesday night on FOX25, the owners of Leather World in Newton Centre and I spoke about the challenges our merchants are facing heading at what should be their busiest time of the year.
 
Here’s something we could use here
 
Texas is distributing COVID-19 test kits to chambers of commerce to distribute to local businesses.
 
The tests were provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A similar program for school systems was implemented in October.
 
And here's something to emulate
 
The Needham Exchange Club -- the civic organization that brings us the town's annual July 4 fireworks and parade, provides scholarships and does many other good deeds -- is participating in the Needham 100 Day Challenge by purchasing a $50 gift card for each of its nearly 100 members to a local business or restaurant of their choice.
 
If you'd like to do something similar for your organization or staff you'll find our local shopping directories here.
 
Today’s three need to knows
  • The SBA recently published recipient data for all PPP loans, as well as for EIDL Loans and Advances. Businesses that believe their information is incorrect may submit a request for correction here. Businesses that are inaccurately listed as receiving an EIDL Loan or Advance may contact disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.
  • Do you represent a nonprofit dedicated to combatting hunger? If so the Foundation for MetroWest would like to hear from you. Please complete this brief survey.
Employers slow to inform state about PFML contact
 
With just more than three weeks until new paid family and medical leave benefits become available to Massachusetts workers, about half of the state's employers still have not told the state who will be in charge of administering the benefits for their workers, reports Colin A. Young at State House News
 
"It's important that we collect this information now as we build out our contact list of people who will manage leave requests for your organization. Incorrect contact information may delay approvals and bring unnecessary stress and anxiety to your employees," said Department of Family and Medical Leave Director William Alpine said.
 
The leave law calls for up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member's active-duty military service. It also authorizes up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker's own serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member. The maximum weekly benefit will be $850.
 
The program is funded through a 0.75 percent payroll tax that the state began collecting last year. Employers are responsible for at least 49.6 percent of the overall contribution and workers can be responsible for up to 50.4 percent of their total contribution.
 
Here’s what to do: Your business can become PFML-ready by calling the DFML contact center at (833) 344-7365 between 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. When calling, have the following information ready:
  • Employer FEIN
  • The name and email address of the person that will be managing the PFML leave administrator process
Sign up for additional updates about PFML by subscribing to the DFML newsletter.
 
Tomorrow: Joe Kennedy’s exit interview
 
After eight years in Congress, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III said goodbye yesterday, delivering his final address from the House floor.

You can read about his remarks here or watch Kernnedy’s five-minute farewell address here.
 
You can also join me tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. when Kennedy is our guest for an hour-long discussion on Zoom.
 
We’ll look back at his time in office; his accomplishments and regrets. We’ll also get his take on the state of our divided nation heading into 2021, ask him what’s next and for the latest on a federal stimulus bill. And I'll leave time for some of your questions.
 
See you tomorrow.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.
Dine out. Take out. Shop locally. Mask up. And tip generously.

 

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