‘It’s going to be devastating’: Philly’s Black biz owners lash out at Kenney’s new COVID-19 restrictions

Philadelphia restaurant owner Barbara Devan says she's worried about the coming holiday season (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Jamyra Perry

PHILADELPHIA — The city of Philadelphia announced new “Safer at Home” restrictions Monday afternoon. The new restrictions, meant to curtail Philadelphia’s rising COVID-19 cases, include discontinuing indoor dining, strongly encouraged take-out meals as well as the closing of gyms, museums and libraries.

Steven Scott Bradley, chairman of the board of the African American Chamber of Commerce, said the new round of restrictions could lead to a reduction of Philadelphia’s Black-owned small businesses and will slow the city’s recovery.

“It’s going to be devastating,” Bradley said.

Many small businesses and restaurants were beginning to regain customers’ confidence and gain financial traction after months of living under less severe coronavirus restrictions, said Bradley, who heads the 400-member organization.

Businesses also will lose out on the peak holiday shopping season, Bradley warned.

Tasties restaurant owner Barbara Devan said the holidays are a major concern for her.

“We still have bills to pay. Every restaurant owner still has bills. The holidays are coming and people need money to survive. There’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and people’s finances are already in shambles,” she said.

Devan, whose restaurants include two take-out locations and one sit-down location, said she is worried about business but even more concerned with making sure everyone is healthy.

Philadelphia bans indoor gatherings & broadens virus rules; Kenney won’t rule out full shutdown

“Anything that can help get the COVID count down, we need to do. If that means limiting how many people can eat in a restaurant, which is super hard for my fellow restaurant owners because we worry about paying our bills, that’s what we have to do. COVID is very serious, a lot of people very close to me have been getting really sick. Whatever it is that needs to be done for the next couple of weeks to get it under control, even if it hurts our business I’m with it,” she said.

Personal services like nail salons, hair salons and barbershops were not mentioned in the latest restrictions but that has done little to ease the minds of business owners.

Natalie McNeill, owner of Ends Hair Design and Day Spa in Northern Liberties, said she can’t help but feel that personal service businesses like hers will soon be on the chopping block.

“The latest announcement made me nervous. We dodged the bullet, but we’re not in the clear yet. We must be prepared. Anything could happen at any moment,” she said.

McNeill co-founded the Pennsylvania Professional Image Alliance, a group of beauty professionals working together to navigate COVID since March. In response to the new restrictions, she warned her group to “be prepared.”

“Save your money. Make sure that you’re spending as little as possible on what is needed. Make sure that we’re communicating with our clients to let them know again how safe it is and make sure all the protocols and all the steps that have been set forth are being followed,” the salon owner said.

McNeill said that even with being open, the last few months have been very scary.

“Some of the businesses still have not even opened. Some clients are coming back. Some clients are not because they are still afraid of the spread. And we kind of seemed like we had things kind of under a little bit of control, but now they’re spiraling again so we’re on edge. The clients are on edge also because some of them are texting or calling people saying, ‘Are you guys going to be next?’” she said.

Devan has embraced the restrictions but said they are only a partial solution.

“There also needs to be some type of a financial lifeline coming out that actually can help people. … This time, I hope that all business owners be able to get some funding, not just certain ones,” the restaurateur said.

Jamyra Perry is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.