Most Americans never thought they would go two months without eating in a restaurant, but that’s just what happened when COVID-19 struck.
With Phase Two of reopening of state businesses underway, some area eateries that closed their doors during the height of the pandemic are reopening. Others will never open their doors again.
According to a study published by the National Restaurant Association in March, 3% of U.S. restaurants permanently closed because of COVID-19. Throughout the spring, the association expected those numbers to rise to near 11%.
Looking at the facts and figures published by the association days shy of a month later in April, two out of three restaurant employees lost their jobs, four in 10 restaurants closed during the pandemic, and the industry stands to lose upwards of $240 billion by the end of the year.
In the Martinsville area, Lisa Watkins, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, estimated that 60% of restaurants remained open throughout the pandemic, while approximately 40% closed for a period of time.
Some eateries, rather than trying to work within the confines of Gov. Ralph Northam’s initial 10-person-or-less rule in dine-in restaurants or later offer carryout, drive-thru or delivery services only, simply closed.
“We have had some restaurants express concerns about their ability to manage food supply versus sales,” Watkins said.
Business owners aiming to reopen or remain open are starting to think creatively about new ways to conduct their establishments, while following the executive orders and safety guidelines.
“The Mexican restaurant has brought tables out for outdoor dining,” said Rebecca Adcock, executive director of the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of our convenience store grills already had picnic tables outside for people.”
As consumers adapt to the new normal, restaurant owners are adjusting their approaches as well.
“People in the community really want to support local businesses, so we encourage restaurant owners to clearly and quickly communicate changes in operation such as hours they are open and how they are providing services,” Watkins said. “Many restaurants have been very creative to continue to serve customers and we recommend that restaurant owners consider adapting some of those ideas that are feasible for them. We are all in this together.”
Both Watkins and Adcock noted that it’s still too early to determine whether any local restaurants will permanently shutter.
One local confectionery, however, announced a decision to close one of its three shops within the area. Cocoa Trail Chocolates, headquartered in Collinsville, no longer will operate inside of the Danville Mall.
The chocolate shop snagged one of the coveted Danville’s Next Great Pop-Up Shop slots in the established retail location around the holidays after winning a competition held in partnership with the American Dream Project, an initiative that connects entrepreneurs with brick-and-mortar spaces.
Located adjacent to Belk, across from Karen’s Hallmark and near soft pretzels maker Monks, Cocoa Trail Chocolates owners Brittany and Alan Agee experienced success. In January, they announced a plan to remain in the mall following the holiday rush.
After the coronavirus hit Virginia in early March, many stores in the mall closed by the end of the month. While some plan to reopen following the pandemic, Cocoa Trial Chocolates will not be among them.
Brittany explained that the decision for not reopening the mall location came after consideration of the reduced amount of business traffic caused by the pandemic.
Although the business initially also closed their standalone Danville storefront, located at 418 Trade St, Suite F, behind Sheetz, the Agees kept the Collinsville confectionery running.
“We closed the store in Danville because nobody was coming out,” Brittany said. “We kept the Collinsville store open because we still had customers coming out, and we didn’t want to close the doors on them. We allowed any employee who did not feel comfortable working to not work. All but one employee has returned back to work.”
The husband-and-wife team recently reopened the Danville store on Trade Street with new hours, currently operating from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. In Collinsville, the hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“We still have bills to pay,” Brittany Agee said. “Since cases were starting to decline, we felt like we needed to reopen” the Danville store.
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