SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Perhaps no industry has been hit harder by the coronavirus crisis than the restaurant industry. Some eateries have experienced sales declines of 50% or more, and with the imposition of a curfew and the restriction on bars and restaurants to prepare meals for delivery and curbside pick-up only, many are wondering how long they will be able to survive.
On Saturday, the Chinese restaurants in Scotch Plains and Fanwood collectively agreed to shut down operation for at least two weeks because of a sharp decline in sales that coincided with the reporting about the coronavirus, which started in Wuhan, China. Sue Lin, who made the announcement, said she believed all the news about COVID-19 had scared customers.
Both Mayor Al Smith in Scotch Plains and Mayor Colleen Mahr in Fanwood continue to urge residents to support local restaurants.
"I'm making it a point to go in and have lunch at the different restaurants in town to show my support. I encourage the residents of Scotch Plains to do the same," Mayor Smith said.
"If we want to have a vibrant downtown, we have to support our local businesses," Mayor Mahr said. "These are our neighbors."
The cancellation of Darby Road's annual St. Patrick's Day festival not only hurt the Irish pub, it also impacted the psyche of the town for which the event had become a social highlight of the year.
"What can we do. It's a tough situation," said Joe Mortarulo, owner of Darby Road, who had begun to set up the big white festival tent in the Scotch Plains municipal parking lot before Governor Murphy's orders to limit crowds to 250 (later reduced to 50) to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
"Some food we could send back, but we incurred a lot of cost. It's the risk of doing business," Mortarulo told TAPintoSPF. "We are living in strange times. I don't know if insurers will be able to cover. It's all new, we are collectively learning as we go along."
The restaurant owner said some of his 50-person staff had volunteered to come in to help clean the restaurant and box up some of the liquor inventory. Mortarulo plans to re-stain the bar, which he had planned to do in late summer when business usually slows. He also has cut back staff at Houdini Pizza Labratory, which he also owns in Fanwood.
On St. Patrick's Day, which normally would be a boon for Irish pub's like Sheelan's Crossing in Fanwood, owners Sean Flannery and Frank Pascale, spent lunchtime getting to-go orders of corned beef and cabbage out the door for delivery.
"We are going to keep going and hope that the community supports us by ordering deliveries and taking advantage of our curbside service, which includes liquor under the current circumstances," said Flannery, who also owns Sheelan's Fish Market on South Ave. "We are open for lunch, but we may have to examine that. Obviously, we close at 8:00 p.m. just like everybody else."
"We are trying to make curbside an option to keep our employees working. At this time that's all we know," said Matthew Dudek, general manager of the Stage House Tavern on Park Ave. in Scotch Plains.
"We are way down," said Max's Pizza owner Max Perrone, who opened his restaurant in late December. "This (coronavirus crisis) is killing business."
Ronnie Vojka of Fabio's Pizza in Fanwood said "business is very quiet." He said that he'd like to keep staff hours for his employees, but realizes that unfortunately he may have to cut back.
There are some businesses that have seen sales increase since the restaurant restrictions were enacted. Vinnie Losavio at John's Meat Market said he had a truck load of meat delivered on Saturday and "didn't even have one hot dog left at the end of the day." Losavio posted a sign outside the store asking for no more than 5 customers to enter the store at one time.
Liz Jeffery, Fanwood's director of economic development, said that Fanwood Liquors reported that they were doing well. In Scotch Plains, Sanjay Patel of Park Ave. Liquors, has also seen his sales go up.
"People don't want to stay home and do nothing. They didn't get to go out for St. Patrick's Day, but they could celebrate at home."
"If we want thriving small towns, then we have to have local businesses. We need to support them," Jeffery said. "I'm going to stop for lunch a few times a week. I encourage residents to take advantage of curbside and delivery or buy gift certificates. We have to support them now or else they won't be able to survive."
All of the eateries in Scotch Plains and Fanwood (and across the state) are now limited to curbside and delivery service until 8:00 p.m. only.
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