With Restaurant, Gathering Bans, Officials Look to Economy, Seek Business Relief

(File photograph.)

As more work and gathering restrictions took hold Monday—aimed at limiting exposure to the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19—officials began focusing attention on the expected economic fallout.

Local, state and federal officials called for immediate relief for restaurant and bar owners and their employees. Such relief could come in the form of delayed tax payments, letting business owners keep meals and hotel taxes, deferral of utility payments and other measures. Some of those business and political leaders appeared live over WHAV yesterday and continued meeting throughout the day. Rep. Andy X. Vargas told radio listeners what state government must do.

“Come up with a legislative package that is flexible for small businesses and for their employees who are going to be missing paychecks and still have to pay bills,” he said.

Vargas later participated in a 10 a.m. video conference with Sen. Diana DiZoglio, Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce President Dougan Sherwood, City Council President Melinda E. Barrett, restaurateur Jason Petrou, and aides to Congresswoman Lori Trahan and Mayor James J. Fiorentini.

Sherwood told WHAV, “We have the right people around the table who are smart and ready to go to the mat to do what we have to.” He called it “a very, very difficult time for restaurants” and their employees who rely on patron tips.

Barrett, who formerly owned a downtown eatery, noted sales and meals taxes will soon be due to the state. Delaying those payments puts needed cash in business owners’ wallets right away. DiZoglio and Vargas discussed legislation to aid to small businesses. Petrou, who owns Olivia’s restaurant and Krueger Flatbread, provided the small business owner perspective. Fiorentini was represented by Chief of Staff Allison Heartquist while Vladimir Salbana stood in for Trahan.

Meanwhile, City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who also serves as president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, went a step further. He said small restaurants and function halls should be allowed to keep meals taxes and hotels to keep room taxes altogether and all downtown Haverhill parking fees should be waived immediately. He told WHAV, “They are all getting killed right now. This gives them a chance to recoup something.”

Bevilacqua has also proposed other relief for residents and a delay in holding a number of public hearings in light of the governor’s ban on gatherings of 25 or more people. (See separate story.)

While sensitive to liquor license holders, Haverhill License Commission Chairman Joseph C. Edwards said the Commission is prepared to enforce the governor’s ban on dining and drinking inside businesses. Edwards said there will be “harsh penalties” for non-compliance.

Fiorentini’s office, Vargas and the Haverhill Chamber have also been collecting information from both businesses looking for help and those who may have resources to share. Sherwood explained, “We really want to hear from people in the community as to what they’re going through, what the cost to their business is, what challenges they’re facing.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, whose Sunday emergency declaration limited restaurants to takeout and delivery only, filed bills to allow affected workers to immediately begin collecting unemployment benefits, give municipal governments more flexibility and create a September holiday to celebrate the postponed Boston Marathon. Baker also announced a $10 million recovery loan fund for small businesses and nonprofits.

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