‘Our restaurants are in trouble’: McGovern, other leaders urge support for local eateries 

  • Vince Jackson, the executive director of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, speaks at a press conference at the Hotel Northampton held by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, at his right,  about the importance of supporting local restaurants and a bill which would provide much-needed assistance. To the left is state Sen. Jo Comerford, Chris Ware, co-owner of Jake’s, Mayor David Narkewicz, Fahd Khazraj, restaurant manager at the Hotel Northampton, and Ruby Meng, the director of sales and marketing. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris Ware, co- owner of Jake’s in Northampton, speaks at a press conference at the Hotel Northampton held by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, to his right, about the importance of supporting local restaurants and a bill which would provide much-needed assistance. To the left is Vince Jackson, the executive director of the Northampton Chamber of commerce, Mayor David Narkewicz and state Sen. Jo Comerford STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chris Ware, co-owner of Jake’s in Northampton, speaks at a press conference at the Hotel Northampton held by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, to his right, about the importance of supporting local restaurants and a bill that would provide much-needed assistance. Mayor David Narkewicz is at far left with state Sen. Jo Comerford. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2020 12:23:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Take it from Jake’s co-owner Chris Ware — the COVID-19 pandemic has been a “very trying time” for restaurants across the entire United States, including his. But although he said his King Street lunch and brunch spot has made it through the past few months, there’s another obstacle on the horizon: winter.

“It’s going to be a whole new challenge for us,” Ware said on an ominously chilly Friday morning at a press conference outside of the Hotel Northampton.

Ware was just one of a few local players in politics and business to join U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, in pleading Friday with residents of the area to continue patronizing local restaurants. McGovern also urged Congress to pass a bill he has co-sponsored called the Restaurants Act, which the congressman said would establish a $120 billion federal grant program that would help local restaurants cover expenses such as payroll, rent and utilities.

“Food brings people together. That’s why restaurants are the lifeblood of our economy,” McGovern said. “It is impossible to separate our community’s character from their cuisine. But our restaurants are in trouble.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in March, Gov. Charlie Baker was quick to bar the on-premises consumption of food or drink at restaurants in the state. Consequently, businesses were forced to pivot to takeout and delivery. It wasn’t until June until outdoor and indoor dining were allowed.

According to The Boston Globe in June, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association predicted that roughly a quarter of the state’s eateries would not survive the pandemic, with the group’s president saying that number could climb higher.

“With cold weather just around the corner, many restaurants face additional uncertainty as outdoor dining becomes increasingly unfeasible,” McGovern said.

Saying that “millions of livelihoods, hundreds of thousands of businesses and the fabric of our community is at stake,” McGovern argued that restaurants and their employees need “direct assistance” to get through the end of the year. He noted that keeping restaurants open in turn supports the entire food supply chain, such as the people who grow and distribute the food.

“Everybody is impacted if our restaurants were to shut down,” he said.

McGovern said the Heroes Act, a proposed $3 trillion stimulus package that he said has been “gathering dust for months” on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, would also expand funding for loans that restaurants could apply for — “but, quite frankly, that is not enough.”

“I am going to work my heart out in the Congress to advance legislation that will make sure our restaurants get the help that they need so they can weather this storm,” McGovern said.

Mayor David Narkewicz said Friday that restaurants are a “vital part” of the city’s economy. The city has supported restaurants during the pandemic by setting up outdoor dining and using grant money to help businesses pivot to takeout and online sales. The city just dismantled a grant-funded project on Main Street that had expanded open spaces after more than 50 businesses signed a petition asking for the project to be taken down.

And although the mayor noted that Baker has extended the time frame for outdoor dining, he said some fire safety regulations around heaters and tents will make it challenging for many Northampton restaurants.

“Please, put on your masks, come downtown and support your local businesses,” Narkewicz said. “We want to support them and we want them to be here when this pandemic is over.”

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, noted that there is a economic development bond bill pending in the Legislature that she said would provide some “strategic relief,” but said additional help from the federal government is necessary.

“The state can’t go the distance in public support that we know we need and want,” Comerford said. “The federal government can, and with Jim McGovern’s help, it will.”

Vince Jackson, the executive director of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, touted the Community Revitalization Fund, a microgrant program that he said has awarded $140,000 to 56 small businesses and restaurants in Northampton.

“The restaurants have shown such resilience and creativity during the beginning of the pandemic,” Jackson said. “So we want to inspire you and encourage you to continue to support our restaurants.”

Ruby Meng, director of sales at the Hotel Northampton, and Ware both thanked the public for their support during the pandemic. 

“With the community’s support, we think we will get through it,” Ware said about the coming winter. “But we will need help from the federal government … to weather the storm that’s still going on.”




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