CAMDEN, NJ — La Costeñita, a restaurant that serves up hot Mexican delicacies, is uniquely situated on a Camden corner so that anyone driving down Federal, 27th streets or Baird Boulevard is bound to see it. Passersby heading to Farnham Park, Cramer Hill Community Center or anywhere else in East Camden can also grab a cold jarrito, crispy flauta or chips and guacamole to go.
However, Costeñita manager Rosy Lopez says that as the state instills curfews for businesses and continues to discourage people from leaving their homes, the impact on walking traffic has been "devastating."
“We’ve never had to rely on delivery as much as we are now,” Lopez told TAPinto Camden, looking over the bare restaurant floor. “People are also not tipping a lot, and we hope that changes. Many of the drivers rely on that. [As for take out], there aren’t as many people walking around, which means less money.”
La Costeñita has one delivery driver and otherwise offers food delivery through online services like Grubhub and Uber Eats.
Lopez said morale has also been low within the staff.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” she said.
Over the weekend, an executive order signed by Gov. Phil Murphy tightened the reins even further on how businesses can operate during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Whereas take out and delivery-only rules were already in place, an obligatory 8 p.m. curfew now has businesses making cutbacks and scrambling to stay afloat.
“We’ve had to cut employee hours, so that instead of five days some [employees] are just working two days a week now,” said manager of San Lucas Restaurant, Salvador Medina. “We’re getting 10% of the sales we usually get and just maintaining right now is hard.”
Medina says delivery drivers have bared the brunt of the hit with tips waning over the past few weeks.
“I think it’s because people are losing money too. They have to stay home. They can’t work...so I don’t blame them. We are all dealing with this and every day we hear about something else,” he said.
Most businesses in Camden have now posted "Solo Para Llevar, Sorry" or "Only Take Out/Delivery" signs on their doors. Although the 8 p.m. curfew is in place, most businesses were shut down as early as 6 p.m. on some blocks.
"We have less money to stay on, some days we close at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m....you know, to make up," Medina said.
Medina said supporting small businesses has never been more imperative, as they don't have the infrastructure in place to survive with steadily depleting income.
Even famous Camden eatery Donkey’s Place — that’s usually clamoring with people seeking cheesesteaks — is feeling barren these days.
“The bar’s closed and nobody can come in and stay, which we’re not used to,” owner Robert Lucas said. “We’re doing about 50% to 70% of what we usually do so this is definitely hurting us. But we have food delivery through the apps. Employees have been taking on projects like spring cleaning and painting at the place. It’s been about keeping them busy.”
Donkey’s Place and businesses in Camden writ large have taken to social media to assure customers know that they are indeed open.
Café el Colombiano on River Avenue, which ordinarily posts spottily to promote their dishes or an event linked to a sport's tournament, reminded customers they were open on Friday.
“Gracias por cooperar con esta situación del virus,” owners wrote online, thanking the public for cooperating.
A Little Slice of New York, on North 3rd Street, exclaimed on Facebook, “Camden may be closing down, but we’re still here!” with hashtag CoronaCantCloseUs.