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CLOSURES LOOM

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Bars and restaurants struggle to stay afloat amid COVID-19

By
Elesha George

Elesha.george@antiguaobserver.com

At the end of this week and into the weeks ahead,
hundreds of restaurant and bar employees will join hotel and cruise line
workers who have been laid off because of the economic fallout caused by the
COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been affected quite heavily; as such I can’t see
us being able to stay open much longer,” Alex Grimley, owner of Sheer Rocks and
Catherine’s Café, told a conference meeting on Tuesday.

Papa Zouk restaurant closed last week, leaving eight
people jobless, because its owner, Bert Kirchner, said he would be risking his
life if he remained open.

“I had a pneumonia for seven weeks in January and
February and I’m in the high-risk bracket. I cannot afford to get sick. It will
probably kill me,” he told Observer.

Twelve staff
members from Le Bistro are also facing the breadline come this Saturday, after the business
owner decided that it was better to close down temporarily.

And Lance Leonhardt, owner of Jacqui O’s, said, “Sunday
is our last day and then we’re going to try to stay ready to open at a minute’s
notice if something changes by Easter.”

If there is no change, he added, then the business will
have to shut down until November and that is if patrons don’t lose interest in
returning by then – a situation that would put 14 more people out of work.

“Twelve of them are single mothers so it’s a very bad
situation. Fortunately, I have a saving scheme for all my employees, so a
number of them have been saving money since November,” the Jacqui O’s owner
shared.

Businessman Jeff Hadeed’s four businesses, which include
Big Banana and the Larder, employ around 200 people. He told Observer that his
airport-based restaurant will open for the last time on Saturday.

“Based on what’s happening at the airport, we probably
will follow shortly after with the other businesses, partly because there is
gonna be no business [and] partly because it’s part of what needs to be done to
try and curb the spread of the virus,” he said.

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Between Big Banana’s two locations, the Larder and South
Point hotel, the companies pay close to EC$8 million a year in wages.

Seemingly lost for words, Hadeed said, “I don’t know.
It’s [the loss] so big that I don’t even know,” as he described the situation
“like a chain reaction going backwards”.

Vanessa and Ton
Smit, who own Cloggy’s overlooking
Falmouth Harbour, have had to scale down business as a result of the
25-person per room limitation enforced by the government. Cloggy’s went from
servicing over 100 people a night to less than 30, just enough to cover the
cost of food products and to pay their 15 employees.

“Up until a week ago Sunday night we were packed,
everyone was having a good time, things went on as normal [but] on the Tuesday
when it was said that there would be a limitation, the staff came up to me and
asked ‘Am I going to lose my job, I’m scared’. So, we stayed open for them,”
Vanessa Smit said.

“We’ve also stayed open for my salad man, my tomato man,
my egg man, my fish man, my lobster man – all these people, they rely on me
because I try to do as much local produce as possible,” she told Observer.

The business’ take-away option is also part of the reason
that Cloggy’s is still open. “We’ll keep going. As long as it’s not drastic
here, then we’ll keep going,” Ton Smit declared.

Meanwhile, Christine Taibi, co-owner of Paparazzi
Pizzeria & Bar in English Harbour, which also offers a take-away option,
said business was “nearly at a virtual stop”.

“We have a lot of take-aways because the harbour here is
still full of boats. Although the yachties that are on board are not
necessarily exiting their boats, they still have the opportunity to take away
food,” she explained.

For as long as that service remains an option, all 12
employees can time share to make a bit of money.

“We were coming down to Sailing Week, this was supposed
to be the busiest time of the year and it’s come down to virtually the
no-business time of the year,” Taibi added.

That
sentiment was shared by Karine Pecquet-Vidal who owns Nomad restaurant. She
said, “It is extremely quiet; we have never experienced something like that
before … I think people are scared to spend money.”

She
continued, “We have been operating at a loss for the past two to three weeks.
The only reason that we are still open is because we are trying to support our
staff. As much as we can, we want to provide them with some work hours; even if
they’re reduced, it’s better than none.”

Pecquet-Vidal said, even with the best intentions, Nomad cannot
sustain this and so they, too, will be closing next week. They will use that
time to begin early renovations.

The post CLOSURES LOOM appeared first on Antigua Observer Newspaper.

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