Businesses worry for the future of outdoor dining when winter comes

EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WLNE) – Businesses across the Ocean State have taken a hit during the pandemic, but one huge success has been outdoor dining.

However, as winter approaches, many businesses are fearful for what’s to come.

In East Greenwich, business owners are just getting back up on their feet after the town shut down the main street on Sunday’s to allow restaurants to extend their outdoor dining into the street.

Emanuele Tampella, the general manager of La Masseria, says they’ve had to get innovative during this difficult time, but ever since the town extended outdoor dining, business has been booming.

“That was the only way we could keep the restaurant open… by sitting outside. Since then, it’s been an escalation of success,” Tampella said. “We take reservations, but even then it’s tough because everyone wants be seated outside.”

Similar to restaurants in Providence and on Atwells Avenue, business owners are starting to worry what’s next as the weather gets colder.

“Uh… I don’t know. I’m thinking,” Tampella said. “Every day I try to come up with a new idea.”

Governor Gina Raimondo just announced $1 million in funding to any business that participates in the state’s take it out initiative.

The funding will go towards intermediary organizations like Chambers of Commerce where they can decide to either use it to create spaces like outdoor markets that businesses can utilize or distribute the funds directly to businesses to buy things like heaters and tents for the winter.

However, some businesses say it’s too little too late.

“October 19th is its last service,” Ben Sukle, the owner and chef of Birch said. “After that, it will be no more.”

Sukle says after 7 and a half years, they’re closing the restaurant Birch’s doors. He says it’s due to the financial strain from COVID-19 and because he’s fearful for indoor dining.

Once the winter comes, Sukle says his restaurant Birch won’t make it through grant money or not.

“Right now, it feels like band-aids on an essentially fatal wound,” Sukle said. “A 1,500 dollar grant, while generous, that’s a week’s worth of payroll.”

While other businesses try to move forward and get creative, owners say it’s the community that’s keeping them going.

The Governor also announced an expansion in the state’s Recover R.I. program, which is aimed to help small businesses who are struggling due to the pandemic.

So far, the program has distributed $7-million to more than 800 businesses. The expansion includes sole proprietors, businesses with 50 employees or fewer and even businesses with no employees.

In addition, the required revenue lost has been lowered from at least 50% to now 30%.

For more information on the program, visit: https://www.recoveryri.org/.

Categories: Coronavirus, News