People ‘feel like life is worth living again’: Pa. biz owners look to promises, challenges post-pandemic | Wednesday Morning Coffee

April 28, 2021 7:16 am

Jim Johnson, co-owner of Kula Childrens Center in Alletnown, speaks during a conference call on Tuesday, 4/26/21 (Screen Capture)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Last spring, as the nation went into lockdown and scores of businesses closed their doors, Jim Johnson found himself asking the same questions as many of his fellow entrepreneurs: Would his business survive an economic meltdown and a public health crisis with no known end? And if it did, what would life look like on the other side?

“I told my wife, who is my partner, I don’t think we’re going to make it,” he said. “It was scary for us.”

A year later, Johnson, who runs the Kula Children’s Center in Allentown, has his answer: He’s gone from two locations to one. And a client base that once numbered more than 100 children dipped to a pandemic low of about 20. Now, he says, he’s built back to 58 children. And while he laments the loss of one location, he’s still grateful to be in business.

“We took a hit, but because of [Paycheck Protection Program] funding, we were allowed to stay in business, and now we’re growing again,” Johnson said during a Tuesday conference call organized by Pennsylvania Democrats reflecting on President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office.

During the pandemic, Johnson said he was getting calls from anxious parents asking about how he was dealing with the virus. Now, “people are calling asking about our programs, which is telling me that they’re relaxed more and they’re happy because they can go back to work. They’re feeling like life is worth living again.”

President Joe Biden discusses the details of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan during a stop at Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Wednesday, 3/31/21 (C-Span screen capture)

At the 100-day mark of his presidency, which comes Thursday, Biden and his programs enjoy majority support among Americans, 54.4 percent of whom approve of his job performance, according to tracking data compiled by

More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) say they back Biden’s ambitious $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, according to a Monmouth University poll released Monday. Three-quarters (76 percent) of all voters supported his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan that provided direct payments to Americans. And, critically, two-thirds of voters (64 percent) approve of his management of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. That’s compared to the 59 percent of voters who disapproved of former President Donald Trump’s management of the worst public health crisis in a century.

So, not without cause, Democratic officials who were on Tuesday’s call had justifiable reasons to be cheerful.

“It’s been a wonderful relief to travel around the district and reassure the people of the Lehigh Valley,” said U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District, who represents the three-city region of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, on Capitol Hill. “Walking around, you can feel it in the air. The sun is shining, and people are back out on Main Street — literally. There’s a tangible feeling of hope that’s been so hard to come by.

But even with the upswing in the national mood and declining unemployment numbers, along with dropping COVID-19 case numbers, challenges remain. Notably, rising levels in vaccine hesitancy and efforts to reach underserved communities.

Through Tuesday, state officials said they’d administered vaccine first doses to 47.7 percent of the eligible population, putting Pennsylvania 10th nationwide among states, based on doses administered by percentage of population, the Capital-Star’s Cassie Miller reported.

Even so, a rise in hesitancy and virus variants was fueling a spike in cases among younger residents of western Pennsylvania, the Post-Gazette reported. And public health leaders were working to win over skeptical Republicans who say they don’t want to get vaccinated, WITF-FM in Harrisburg reported.

“I get feedback from folks who tell me I need to go do something else, and focus on something else, or who are quite frankly angry that I have taken the position that I have,” state Sen. Ryan Aument, a Lancaster County Republican, and a member of the Wolf administration’s bipartisan COVID-19 task force, told the station.

Greg Heller-LaBelle, co-owner of the Colony Meadery in Allentown, speaks during a conference call on Tuesday, 4/26/21 (Screen Capture).

For Greg Heller-LaBelle, the co-owner of Allentown’s Colony Meadery, which makes and serves the honey-based liquor, the vaccine is a lifeline back to normal. He said he’s seen the impact it’s had among the patrons who are returning to his business.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve started to see a change in our space, people are coming out again,” he said. “We’re at 50 percent capacity with masking. That’s not the biggest change. People feel safer with vaccinations. As more and more people around us are vaccinated, they feel comfortable going out again.”

As was the case with Johnson, the Paycheck Protection Program, further buttressed in the most recent round of stimulus funding, was a lifeline, he said. And, like JohnsonHeller-LaBelle had to close one of his locations — this one based in Scranton.

But without the confidence inspired by the vaccine, nothing else matters, he said.

“Once it can be fun again, that is really what the hospitality industry needs,” he said. “We can have all the loans and grants in the world, if people don’t feel comfortable coming out, it won’t make a difference.”

Wild, who voted in favor of Biden’s stimulus package and remains a stalwart supporter of the administration, remained upbeat, but realistic.

“We have some ways to go,” she said. “This is a very encouraging start.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
With an eye toward improving vaccine equity
, the state Health Department has rolled out expanded vaccine demographic data, Cassie Miller reports.

Promising more litigation to come, a Democratic redistricting group helmed by ex-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holderhas filed preemptive lawsuits in Pennsylvania and two other states, I report.

President Joe Biden has signed an order authorizing a $15-an-hour minimum wage for federal contract workers, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa writes.

And if you’re fully vaccinated, you’ll only need to wear a mask outdoors if you’re in a large group of people, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention said Tuesday. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson has the story.

As homicides continue to rise, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is calling for more accountability from law enforcement, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

To help get shots into the arms of marginalized communities, Allentown’s Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is conducting pop-up vaccine clinics, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report. 

On our Commentary Page this morning, columnist Bob Lewis, of our sibling site, the Virginia Mercuryhas some thoughts about cancel culture. And a Michigan State University expert explains why today’s transgender youth are coming out and living in their gender much earlier than older generations.

Row houses in Philadelphia (Capital-Star file)

Homes in Philadelphia’s Black neighborhoods are valued less than similar homes in white neighborhoods, the Inquirer reports.
Allegheny County Council has voted to form a police review board, the Post-Gazette reports.
Blacks and Latinos are more likely be hospitalized with COVID-19PennLive reports (paywall).
The Morning Call maps out changes in Pennsylvania’s population.
Lancaster County’s mass vaccination site will close a month ahead of scheduleLancasterOnline reports.
City officials in Wilkes-Barre will replace 220 feet of flood wall along Laurel Run Creek, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Dave DiCello (@davedicello)

Philadelphia will roll back its dining and event restrictions next week, WHYY-FM reports.
The Pittsburgh Police Department’s annual report shows a dip in arrests and lower crime, but racial imbalances still persist, WESA-FM reports.
An iconic pizza shop in Edinboro, Pa., has reopened after a fireGoErie reports.
Local physicians in southwestern Pennsylvania are dealing with a rise in COVID-19 cases among young adults, the Herald-Standard reports.
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, has raised $360K in the first quarter of the year, PoliticsPA reports. homes in on Republican efforts to override the will of the voters on such issues as Medicaid, higher wages, and legal marijuana.
Talking Points Memo explains what happens when a previously obscure study about beef consumption gets sucked into the right-wing media maelstrom.

What Goes On.
The Senate comes in at 11 a.m. for another busy day. Hope you brought your walking shoes.
9 a.m, 140 Main Capitol: Performance-based Budget Board
9 a.m, Senate Chamber: Senate Aging & Youth Committee
9 a.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee
9:30 a.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee
10 a.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Local Government Committee
10:30 a.m, Senate Chamber: Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee
12 p.m., LG’s Porch: House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, talk about the their ethics reform plan.
12:30 p.m., Capitol Steps: Fair Districts PA Day of Action event
1 p.m., Hearing Room 2, North Office Building: Sens. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia and Judy Schwank, D-Berks, joined by Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, talk about protecting food workers.
2 p.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Communications & Technology Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Perry Warren
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Jerry Knowles
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Wendi Thomas
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill
Ride the circuit, and give at the max today, and you’re out $5,000 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo and to Carolyn Meyers, at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a deep cut from cult mod-soul rockers The Merton Parkas. It’s ‘Put Me in the Picture.’ Chimey guitars for days on this one.

Wednesday’s Hockey Baseball Link.
made up for Monday’s loss to Dallas, skating past the Stars 5-1 on Tuesday night. The ‘Canes’ Jordan Staal had two goals on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.