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Local View: Duluth's restaurants, employees need a Christmas miracle

The governor's latest COVID-19 restrictions targeted Minnesota restaurants and fitness centers. Now, they're struggling to survive.

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We are part of The Trust Project.

As owners and operators of small, locally owned restaurants in and around Duluth, we are grateful to all our customers who continue to support local restaurants by ordering take-out and delivery and by purchasing gift cards. Every little bit helps, and we appreciate the support and hope to see customers back in our dining rooms someday soon.

We are doing our part to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time for leaders In Washington, D.C., and St. Paul to do their part to help our businesses and employees survive.

Minnesota’s current four-week pause for restaurants, bars, and gyms is scheduled to end Dec. 18. When that date comes and goes, our businesses will have been closed for one-third of this year: 118 days of limited or no business, 118 days of little or no work for our thousands of service-industry employees.

Being small-business owners and entrepreneurs is no easy task. Under normal conditions, the restaurant business is challenging. Small margins, increased business expenses, seasonal highs and lows, and a shrinking number of job-seekers are just a few of the challenges we restaurant owners face in northern Minnesota. Mixing in a global pandemic and forced business closures may well be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back for many of our small restaurants and bars.

If we are to survive, our businesses and our employees need a Christmas miracle. We need Congress to act and save the restaurant industry. We need the Minnesota Legislature to do what it can to help struggling businesses.

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This is urgent. Action needs to happen now. For most of us in Duluth, these weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s are the weeks where we make the money we need to survive the winter. January, February, March, April, and May are challenging months for restaurants in Duluth. In order to pay employees, pay our rent and mortgages, and pay our utilities, we need help. If assistance from the federal and state government does not arrive, many businesses will not survive the winter. The ripple effects in our Minnesota economy will be felt for years to come.

Our businesses are very important to us. Our most important asset, though, is our people. Our employees are members of our restaurant families. They, too, are struggling. Most of them are now laid off with no additional unemployment support. These families need help to pay their rent and mortgages and their utilities. And they need help putting Christmas presents under the tree this holiday.

We extend our gratitude to Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and to Congressman Pete Stauber for listening to our concerns. We urge them to continue to press their colleagues in Congress to pass immediate federal relief for businesses and families.

We are grateful to our local legislators, too, for listening to us and for advocating for us in St. Paul. We know the state is more limited in the help it can offer, so we say thanks in advance for any relief efforts passed this month.

We hope bipartisanship is the spirit of this holiday season so businesses and employees in Duluth and in Minnesota can survive these difficult times.

This commentary was submitted to the News Tribune Opinion page by Jason Vincent of Duluth, an owner of Boat Club Restaurant and Vanilla Bean Restaurant. It was signed also by the following Duluth and Duluth-area restaurateurs: Carol Valentini of Valentini’s; Cullen Flaherty and Julie Thoreson of the Blackwood’s Group; Tony Bronson of Grandma’s Restaurant Group; Tom Hanson of Duluth Grill, OMC, and Corktown Deli; Mike Acheson of Sammy’s Pizza-Lakeside; Nick Jerulle of Sammy’s Pizza-West Duluth; Scott Graden of New Scenic Café; Sue and Ken Wright of Bulldog Pizza; Derek Snyder of Lake Avenue Restaurant; Sara Rolfson of Zeitgeist Café; Carla Blumberg of At Sarah’s Table and Chester Creek Cafe; Dave Gonhue of Big Daddy’s Burgers; Paul Kaz of Canal Park Brewing Company; Rick Lampton of 7 West Taphouse, 310 Pub, and Blue Rock Coffee & Wine Cafe; and Gary Schneider of GB Schneider & Company.

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