Moscow businesses

A man and his dog walk past a new parking space for take-out customers on Thursday outside Cafe Artista in Moscow. The city of Moscow created the new parking spaces to help businesses that have temporarily stopped serving sit-down customers to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

About 100 food and beverage businesses, including about 20 in Moscow, signed a letter to Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little, asking him to require all nonessential social gathering places to cease operations immediately and to implement increased emergency state unemployment benefits for the duration of the closures of those establishments.

Little announced Wednesday the state is seeking responses from small businesses whose operations and ability to conduct business have been disrupted by COVID-19, according to a news release from the Office of the Governor. Feedback will determine whether affected businesses will be eligible for disaster assistance in the form of low interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration through Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance.

“This is a national crisis,” said George Skandalos, co-owner of the Garden Lounge, Sangria Grille and Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana. “The rest of the states around us have acted and we need our governor to act.”

The letter, which Skandalos said he believes will be sent to Little today, says essential services should be prioritized, including takeout or drive-through services only, since people need food.

It asks to suspend the waiting week and requirement to look for work and that any worker previously ill with COVID-19, quarantined because of exposure or immunocompromised should also be covered for lost income.

“As an industry, we have always taken great care to provide a safe and clean environment for our staff and guests,” the letter states. “However, the very act of serving food and beverage in a social setting requires that we violate social distancing protocols, and for most of us, we agree with you that social distancing is the wise strategy.”

Little announced Wednesday the state adopted federal guidelines that include a recommendation to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people, according to the Associated Press. The guidelines also call for not eating or drinking in bars, restaurants and food courts, but to use drive-through or pickup options.

“Few workers in Idaho are as large a population and as vulnerable as those in the hospitality industry,” the letter states.

As for business owners, it says many burned reserves attempting to weather the effects of COVID-19 over the past few weeks, and shutting down businesses is not free.

The letter also requests the state provide employers with a 90-day extension to file their state payroll reports and/or deposit state payroll taxes without penalty or interest, and to defer state sales tax for 90 days — with an arrangement to repay over three years — specifically to help cover immediate and startup payroll expenses.

Skandalos said some of his employees tried to apply for unemployment benefits but were told they need to be searching for work to attain it. He said the problem is Moscow’s entire service industry is in trouble so his servers, chefs and bartenders will not be able to find work in the industry in which they have skills.

“Can you imagine if the Moscow restaurant scene failed, how many people are out of a job?” Skandalos said.

He said The Garden Lounge is closed and Maialina and Sangria are offering takeout only.

Two to three employees are working at each of Skandalos’ three businesses — far less than the more than 40 he has on his payroll.

He said he is offering discounts at Maialina and Sangria but multiple customers have refused the discounts and insisted on paying the full price.

“One of the managers yesterday was almost in tears because she was so overwhelmed by the emotion of people being so kind and so generous,” Skandalos said.

Mitchell Lopez, of La Casa Lopez, also signed the letter to the governor. His restaurant is offering takeout and deliveries only.

He said some of his staff has been furloughed and the restaurant is selling about one-fifth of what it normally sells.

“In the absence of the governor not acting, we’re all going to run out of resources,” Skandalos said of businesses. “It’s not a matter of when or of if, it’s a matter of when, and then restaurants will start to fail.”

The city of Moscow is offering designated parking stalls for to-go pickup for downtown food service businesses.

“This is impacting everybody, but some of the first people to feel the impact were our food service people,” said Tyler Palmer, deputy city supervisor of public works and services. “We’ve got a great restaurant scene here in Moscow. Anytime visitors come, one of the things they come away with is just how disproportionately awesome our food scene is for a town this size.”

Palmer said 12 downtown businesses have requested and received designated to-go stalls.

To request a to-go stall, email Tammy Gray at tgray@ci.moscow.id.us

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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