Valley restaurant, business owners glad restrictions will be eased
Restaurant and business owners in the Valley said Gov. Tom Wolf's latest easement of COVID-19 restrictions along with the continued growth of the state's vaccination rollout represents a light at the end of the long pandemic tunnel.
On Monday, Wolf announced that restaurants that are self-certified will be able to increase the number of customers they serve to 75 percent of their normal capacity and resume bar serving beginning April 4. As of Monday, 119 Valley restaurants had already self-certified, including 10 in Montour County, 44 in Northumberland, 31 in Snyder and 34 in Union.
"This is most welcoming news for our bars and restaurants who have been struggling greatly, for the past year, and makes total sense; as we see a decline in area COVID cases and most importantly, it does not change the requirements regarding wearing masks and maintaining social distance," said Carol Handlan, the vice president of Selinsgrove Projects Inc.
“It’s about time,” said Forrest Curran, who owns and operates the Ale House Bar & Grill in Shamokin with his wife, Amanda.
Capacity restrictions enacted by the Wolf Administration caused Curran to turn customers away at times, he said. Mild weather allows for outdoor dining but it’s too early in the year to count on that full-time yet.
Curran self-certified his business through the state’s program pledging to follow health and safety guidelines for the pandemic, allowing 50 percent capacity compared to 25 percent for restaurants that didn’t. It still wasn’t enough some days.
Now at 75 percent, the Ale House can seat more customers, welcome people simply out for social drinks without being mandated to order food, and have a still-limited number of patrons sit at the bar.
“It’s the beginning of the end, I believe,” Curran said of the pandemic.
Dave Bonaventura, owner of El Rancho Restaurant and Lounge in Northumberland, said the news is welcome.
“It could be a little more though, but you got to take what they give you,” he said.
In the last year, with the restrictions plus difficulty in finding employees willing to work, Bonoventura said hours have been reduced. Before COVID they had 20 employees but it was also cut in half.
“It’s tough being open now without enough help,” he said.
Takeout orders have helped them survive, he said.
With vaccinations, “people are feeling safer and coming out,” he said. “We keep everything clean."
Derek Fisher, co-owner of Pineknotter Brewery in Northumberland, said the governor’s announcement is “exciting news.”
“It’ll be nice to give more people a chance to enjoy what we can offer,” said Fisher. “It’ll be nice to have faces regularly at the bar and have conversations. It’s starting to feel more like a restaurant.”
The brewery opened March 6, 2020, and was open for only six days before Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the shut down of all non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania. Fisher said they had to adapt in order to survive with to-go orders and limited capacity when the shutdown order was lifted.
Zach Reed, owner of On A Roll in Northumberland, said a lot of other businesses have experienced far more difficultly than they have. On A Roll has been mainly take-out and delivery before the pandemic.
When the restrictions were originally put in place last year, the capacity for On A Roll was eight people, including staff. They took out the tables and emphasized curbside pick-up.
“Now we’ll be able to open up a little more now,” said Reed. “We’re still going to play it safe and keep everyone socially distanced and masked. We’ll keep our table out front for contactless pick-up.”
The lifted restrictions will allow people “to feel more of a sense of normalcy,” said Reed.
“People were on edge there for a while last year,” said Reed. "It was a scary situation.”