Life was turning around for Mary Lou Bakewell: She’d rebounded from back surgery, returned to work and bought a house with her husband, a bar manager at Siné, last fall.
The baby boy came Jan. 16. She stayed home for about seven weeks — unpaid, but getting by. She’d resume bartending at Home Team Grill in time for March Madness.
March was always reliable, until it wasn’t.
The couple could only watch as the basketball games that lured fans to the sports bar were first played to empty arenas, then canceled amid an escalating pandemic.
Their jobs came next. Between 115,000 to 170,000 of the state’s 287,000 restaurant workers will meet the same fate if national projections hold true.
Finding a new restaurant job had always been easy. Now it’s impossible.
Jobs in service and hospitality — think bartenders and baristas, hairstylists and hotel workers — are disappearing as the president, the governor and the nation’s top doctors urge people to stay home so more of us stay alive.
In Richmond, at least 100 restaurants have closed their doors entirely and hundreds more have converted to takeout only in the wake of Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to limit gatherings at restaurants and other places to no more than 10 people.
Suddenly, Bakewell has a 2-month-old son, a 4-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old stepson in a house with a leaking waste water pipe that shut off access to the kitchen and one of two bathrooms, with no clear path forward as the bills piled up.
They’re looking at a $1,000 homeowner’s insurance deductible, up to $600 for parts not covered by insurance and a $1,500 mortgage payment for April.
And that’s best-case, if the sample plumbers took from the wall Friday to test for asbestos doesn’t force them to leave home during the repairs, and if the repairmen are still allowed to work during any new stage of social distancing.
For now, the couple are taking turns watching the children, making calls and filling out forms online.
“Pretty much anybody that we are going to have a bill from, we have been trying to get in touch with them, even just to push them off for a little,” said Bakewell, who had planned to sell baked goods from home to make a little cash before her kitchen imploded. “We know we’d be OK this month. We can do that for a month or so, but beyond that is where we would need something to change.”
It can be hard, she said, to not let the children see them panicking. But they worry how they’ll pay bills, whether they’ll get to keep health insurance and what shoe is left to drop.
“We are realizing there’s not a lot of it we can control, just like everybody else,” Bakewell said. “I think if it felt like you’re the only one struggling, it might start to feel like a pity party, but as bad as our situation is right now, I still am very aware there are people in a more desperate situation than we are.”
Restaurants employed about 45,000 people in the Richmond metro area — which includes the city and 16 nearby localities — during the third quarter of last year, according to an analysis by Chmura Economics & Analytics in Richmond.
National estimates of 40% to 60% cuts across the industry would mean between 18,000 and 27,000 are or will soon be out of work, said Chris Chmura, the company’s CEO and chief economist.
Among them is Judy Morgan, who relied almost entirely on tips as a server at World of Beer in Short Pump. The bank is letting her wait three months on her car payment, but she has about $600 saved and the rent for April is more than twice that amount.
Virginia received over 30,000 unemployment claims last week. More are coming.
Efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus pit the safety of the broader community against the needs of people whose livelihood depends on rooms full of people.
“I don’t envy any restaurant owner or any small-business owner,” said Julie Heins, head chef at Secco Wine Bar who’s now looking to pick up work at a farm or a landscaping company — anywhere, really. “These are impossible decisions: the livelihood of all of their staff or public safety?”
Some restaurants are still trying to figure out whether it’s better for their employees to lay them off or have them work a fraction of their usual hours.
Tom Colicchio, the “Top Chef” head judge, restaurateur and activist, told The Washington Post he expects 75% or more of restaurants across the country will go under.
“Charity can’t deal with something this big,” he said. “This [demands] government intervention.”
Chmura said it’s too soon to predict whether jobs will bounce back or how many businesses will never reopen.
“This is hard to forecast because we don’t know how long this event will last, and perhaps more importantly, how long social distancing will last,” Chmura said. “There’s just so much uncertainty out there.”
The coronavirus has killed more than 10,000 people around the world, 225 in the U.S. For millions of others, the response is threatening to bleed them dry.
Kenzie Kincaid turned 22 on Sunday. She lost her job as a barista at LuLu’s on Monday. The same day, her boyfriend got laid off from his hotel job. And on Wednesday, her mother lost her job at a hotel in Hot Springs.
The band she fronts, which has played 106 shows since April and pays most of her bills, had three cancellations last week.
“To have it ripped away so suddenly and no guarantee it will be able to come back at the same speed we had going, it’s depressing to think about,” Kincaid said. “This is scary.”
Kincaid is supposed to graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University on May 8. With enough savings to last a few months, she’s more prepared than many people she knows, but will it be enough?
Power and water won’t be shut off over missed payments during the crisis. Richmond is weighing an eviction freeze and other measures to help. Federal lawmakers are considering sending most Americans a $1,200 check and offering extra help to small businesses.
Meanwhile, Virginia has made it simpler to qualify for unemployment, which pays between $54 and $378 a week depending on how much workers were making before being laid off. But unemployment offices are closed to the public because of the virus, and people have reported waiting up to two hours on hold. The employment commission has recommended filing claims online.
Mag Prete is among a growing chorus of laid-off workers who fear it won’t be enough, especially if people are expected to pay back two or three months of rent once the world starts spinning again. He’s advocating a statewide freeze on rent and mortgage payments for those affected to avoid a mass displacement of service workers.
If banks and airlines can be bailed out by the government, they reason, why not the most vulnerable workers?
“People are scared. People feel helpless. Our humanity is changing. We can’t have pride in the situation. We just need help,” Prete said. “We need help from more than just donors who like our restaurants. We need the world to look at us now.”
Krystal Williams and three hairstylists set out on their own in December, renting suites on Huguenot Road to open Shine Blowdry Bar.
Her philosophy was to always be there, because there was always the chance someone would walk in and spend money. Now she’s unsure if showing up will even cover the gas she burns on the 45-minute commute.
Williams had one client Wednesday, with no others scheduled until Friday night. The Friday appointment canceled.
The team typically brought in $1,100 or $1,200 a week. Recently? $233, which doesn’t cover the weekly cost of renting a salon booth.
Williams understands why people are afraid, but their absence still hurts. She has bills, a 13-year-old son and three other hairstylists she sees struggling.
“Two of my girls are pregnant. I’ve been freaking out because I’m a momma bear,” said Williams, 41, her voice cracking. “I have to put food on the table. I have a 6-foot son. He needs shoes. He’s growing like a weed.”
She’s trying to add gigs with food and grocery delivery while also volunteering to bring groceries to elderly people who don’t feel safe in a grocery store.
Everything feels like it’s in limbo. New York on Friday ordered hair and nail salons and other personal service shops to close.
Will Virginia be next?
Prete, a line cook at Don’t Look Back until last week, channeled his anxiety into helping organize a Facebook group and a fundraising page that would solicit emergency aid for the most struggling.
For people like Todd Durante, who washed dishes at Barrio Taqueria in the Fan District to afford the $135 weekly rent at a recovery house in the city.
The restaurant closed for dine-in Monday, and soon he was volunteering to help pass out free meals at city schools.
“This week, I’m OK. Next week, I’ll get my last check. After that, I don’t know,” said Durante, who was released from jail in January and isn’t sure where he’ll go if he can’t come up with the money. “I would say a homeless shelter, but I assume they’re pretty full at this point.”
People had donated more than $4,800 by Saturday, and Prete was asking people to send information that would help determine who needed help.
Everyone, it seemed.
Within 24 hours, Prete had a list of more than $30,000 in needs, mainly from people who aren’t sure how they’ll pay rent.
“There’s no precedent for this. There’s nothing we can look at to know what to do, to know what to expect, to know what to plan for. It feels like the end of our world,” said Prete, who for now still has a side job shipping bicycles. “It feels so much bigger than just thinking about how I’m going to pay rent next.”
The city’s tight-knit restaurant community is reverberating with individual and collective efforts to provide hope and help, with sights set on a larger scale.
A bakery gave out free bread loaves to anyone who needed it. A hamburger joint set up a free drive-thru. Multiple GoFundMe accounts sprang up, and some people sent help directly to workers with payment apps like Cash or Venmo.
A virtual happy hour on Friday encouraged people to have a drink at home and text a donation as a tip that would go toward grants for struggling food service workers.
On Wednesday, Matthew Tlusty cooked a sit-down dinner for his employees at Saltbox in Willow Lawn, a private party of eight. They ate crab cakes, oysters and loup de mer, drank from the restaurant’s already opened wines and talked about preparing for an unpredictable future.
It was the restaurant’s last meal that wouldn’t be boxed up as takeout for nobody knows how long. Tlusty knows takeout can’t support him and his staff.
“This whole to-go thing, it’s fool’s gold,” Tlusty said. “I don’t need to just sell a crab cake entree. I need to sell a cocktail, I need to sell a bottle of wine, I need to sell a dessert. ... We make very little money off of our food. It’s everything else. And servers don’t get tipped on takeout.”
On Friday, Virginia relaxed its rules to allow businesses to sell alcohol through pickup or delivery.
Restaurateurs, Tlusty said, are among the first places people look to when they’re working on a charity event, and he’d like to see the people restaurants have helped organize an event to help them now.
“We’re not the group of people to say, ‘Help us out, help us out, we need a bailout.’ But we need a bailout,” Tlusty said. “We’ve got our employees we have to take care of. It’s not like we can go work at another restaurant, because there’s not another restaurant to go to.”
In a video posted Friday titled “We need help now,” a dozen Richmond restaurant owners appeal for a lifeline with stoicism betrayed by voices that carry the strain of the worst week of their careers.
The clip, which racked up more than 11,000 views by Saturday, begins with Kevin Liu, owner of the Jasper, Tin Pan and Carytown Cupcakes:
“Bars and restaurants are not an industry that will go away. The question is: ‘Will we still be here, the people that you know and love right now in your community?’”
In some way, it’s what everyone’s asking: How long can we survive?
Most weddings are stressful and bring jitters, but never like this.
With the news about the coronavirus — and how to handle it — changing every hour, couples have had to adapt on the fly. A week ago, the state guidelines were calling for no gatherings larger than 100 people. Now, it’s 10 people.
The frequent changes and coronavirus fears are leaving many bridal couples wondering whether they should postpone, cancel or go ahead with their weddings.
Alyssa Hensley, 22, and her fiance, Wil Arrington, 23, of Amelia were planning to get married Saturday at Jasmine Plantation in Providence Forge.
As their wedding date approached, everything was in flux. The clock was ticking as alarms about the coronavirus went off.
Originally, the couple had invited 200 people to the wedding. When the first large gathering restrictions came out, they cut the guest list to 100. Then 50.
“Every day, the plan has changed. As recently as Monday, I thought it would happen a certain way. But every day, it got smaller and changed,” Hensley said.
By midweek, the couple decided to completely upend their plans.
They got a new date and a new venue: Friday at a backyard party.
She wore her wedding dress and walked down the aisle, where Arrington was waiting with only their parents and siblings in attendance.
“We wrote our own vows, and both of our families were crying. Wil couldn’t stop smiling long enough to shed a tear,” she said.
The big party at Jasmine Plantation with friends and extended family has been postponed to Aug. 1.
“It was hard to make the decision. It took wedding jitters to another level,” Hensley said. “It’s nothing like what we pictured, but everything has fallen into place as much as it possibly could. We are very, very lucky.”
“Walking down the aisle, all I could think was, ‘Oh shoot, I forgot my bouquet.’ It was sitting on the kitchen counter. But this week definitely prepared me not to sweat the small stuff. Seeing Will at the end of the aisle was all that mattered.”
They didn’t lose any money on deposits or the caterer or the venue, all of which carried over to the new date for the reception.
Bride-to-be Hannah Mills, 24, from western Henrico County, describes herself as a “hopeless romantic.”
“I’ve been building this up in my head literally my whole life. I just want to get married and have kids,” she said.
She and her fiance, Michael Clarke, 23, have been planning their April 18 wedding at Historic Pole Green Church in Mechanicsville for almost a year. They were planning for 125 guests, but they don’t know what their guest list will look like next month.
The guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for large gatherings change as the coronavirus spreads. On Monday, the CDC said all events of 10 or more people should be canceled for the next 15 days.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen. If only a few people can come, I’ll be heartbroken,” Mills said.
At the same time, they’re concerned about the health of their family and guests. “I have a grandmother and he does, too. It’s a worry,” she said.
The couple are trying to decide what to do. Historic Pole Green Church is an open-air venue and hasn’t canceled the date yet.
“The worst-case scenario is that it will just be us, getting married, with a few family members,” Mills said. “I’ll wear my dress and we’ll say our vows and plan a reception somewhere down the road when things calm down. For us, what’s most important is that we want to married.”
Many venues are having to quickly shuffle plans and reschedule weddings in an already packed wedding season.
At Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, most spring weddings are being postponed to the fall of 2020 or early 2021. Some have canceled their weddings, with full refunds, while others have postponed with no change fees.
All April weddings have rescheduled, and about half of their May weddings have rescheduled, so far.
“We are following the CDC’s recommendations and the Virginia Department of Health’s mandates, which has stated that all events after March 31 must now be under 50 guests or less. In order to maintain this rule, we are now requiring all clients provide us with a guest list prior to their event to check in guests as they arrive,” said Beth Monroe, a spokeswoman for the garden.
That number includes all attending vendors working the event, as well as on-site working staff.
Under the new CDC restrictions, many venues have had to cancel weddings for the next few weeks. Others are trying to figure out whether April or May weddings can go on.
Some venues like Maymont and The Commonwealth Club of Virginia declined to comment for this story. Dover Hall in Manakin-Sabot said it has had to reschedule a few weddings. The venue is monitoring the situation as it unfolds and, as of this writing, is allowing those with May weddings to keep their original date with the option to reschedule.
“Many clients have been reaching out with concerns,” said Jennings Whiteway, a wedding planner with local planning company Belles & Whistles. “The restrictions are changing day by day and hour by hour.”
Her goal has been to work with clients and help them navigate the steps ahead.
“We’ve been encouraging them and consoling them. We’ve been telling them to look at their contracts, consider their guests, grandparents and any travelers,” said Whiteway, who has been suggesting postponements rather than cancellations.
“Many have worked for eight to 12 months to plan their special day. If they can retain the vendor team and keep those contracts and all their plans and hard work intact, it saves them from incurring cancellation costs, saves them time and labor in reworking a year’s worth of work, and avoids hurting small businesses in the industry as well,” she said.
But those affected are hustling to revisit the work. It’s looking to be a very busy fall season for weddings, and into 2021.
Matthew Forrest at the Science Museum of Virginia said, “Saturdays on our calendar are already pretty full for the rest of the year so some couples are utilizing Sundays as dates. Everyone seems to be thankful and understanding due to the situation.”
Courtney Jones, 30, and her fiance, Christian Hamlett, 27, of Richmond are less than a month away from their April wedding.
“We discussed getting married on the original date with just immediate family in attendance, but we want to stick to social distancing and not put anyone at risk,” Jones said.
Their venue, Historic Mankin Mansion in Henrico, postponed all April and May weddings, which made the decision easy, she said.
They are working on a new date in September for their 200 guests, with all monies and deposits transferring over to the new date.
Jones is pretty straightforward about the logistics of rescheduling, but admits she’s feeling “so sad that we were only a month out from our wedding. We were really looking forward to celebrating each other with our family and friends.”
“To have all of the hard work we put in feel like it was for nothing is just a devastating experience. It will translate to the reschedule date, but planning a wedding is a daunting task, and I can’t imagine doing all of that work again.”
On the other hand, she said COVID-19 has put her wedding plans in perspective.
“There are much bigger and more important issues in our world than our wedding. We know we will have a wonderful wedding in September when — hopefully — all family members and friends will be able to attend,” she said.
For Logan Jordan, 26, and his fiancee, Marissa McCormick, 25, from Richmond, their May 16 wedding is far enough away that they aren’t sure what the restrictions will be.
“We’re in a weird state of limbo. We’re hoping for the best and will adjust as necessary,” Jordan said. “We’ve had to do a big shift in our perspective. We’ve had to step back and realize maybe a huge massive party isn’t [what’s needed right now]. We’re just excited to walk down the aisle.
“We plan on getting married, and that’s what’s most important for us.”
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Nurses were taking their temperature three times a week. Health care workers were rationing and reusing masks meant for one-time use. Community members started sewing their own masks to supply local health care facilities.
Those are among the stories Paige Perriello, a pediatrician in Charlottesville, heard in the past week before sending a letter to the governor pleading for more protective gear for health care workers treating people who’ve fallen ill with the coronavirus.
As Virginia’s number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise — now at 152, with the state reporting its third death from the virus on Saturday — the personal protective equipment for health care workers, such as masks, gowns and gloves, continues to dwindle, leaving them especially vulnerable to contracting the virus.
The 152 positive cases is an increase of 38 over the 114 reported by the state Friday, which doesn’t include the first case confirmed in Louisa County on Saturday evening. It’s a figure that has doubled every few days in Virginia as more tests — but still not enough — become available. Doctors have said many more cases have likely gone unrecorded.
Saturday evening, the Fairfax County Health Department reported its first coronavirus death, a man in his 60s who died of respiratory failure.
In a news briefing Saturday, Gov. Ralph Northam said the state is loosening testing criteria to give priority to medical staff treating people with the virus. Health officials said they’re also focusing on testing those with respiratory illness and are relaxing criteria for people in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Until Saturday, they had to first undergo a flu test and respiratory virus panel. Now, the panel isn’t required.
The state is distributing supplies from the national stockpile but is looking to industrial suppliers or local manufacturers for more protective equipment for front-line first responders and prisons, which operate with thousands in close quarters, said Health and Human Resources Secretary Daniel Carey.
“We are pursuing every opportunity and I think it’s also important to say that this is a national problem,” Carey said. “This will not be solved without a national solution.”
Perriello tweeted out the letter to Gov. Ralph Northam and Carey around 7 a.m. asking them to help solve Virginia’s personal protective equipment crisis. As of 6 p.m. Saturday, more than 300 health care workers from across the state signed on, including 32 from the Richmond area.
“I don’t think any of us think that this magical stockpile is coming,” Perriello said.
She said the letter wasn’t meant to be critical, but aspirational of what communities can do. The goal is to have the governor address Virginians and encourage them to contribute to the grassroots efforts already happening.
Distilleries have started making hand sanitizer. Dentists and schools are providing their own supplies to health care facilities since closing. Emily Little, a former emergency care nurse who is organizing efforts in Charlottesville, said it’s a national necessity.
“If we lose nurses and providers, we’re going to [have more than] a [protective equipment] shortage,” she said.
The letter outlined what’s immediately needed, such as personal protective equipment and testing kits, and said the governor could help by funneling supplies to the front lines, inventing solutions and creating open communication between medical professionals and the health department. With each day the state waits, “more medical providers will fall ill, which threatens the catastrophic collapse of our entire health care system,” the letter read.
Northam said the state is working to get more supplies like masks and gowns, and signed an executive order Friday night to allow hospitals and nursing homes to add more beds to deal with the pandemic. The governor also announced Saturday that a shipment of protective gear for health care workers was distributed Friday.
Public health officials said Virginia’s state lab has the ability to perform testing for over 1,000 patients. Private labs are also taking tests, but the state doesn’t have a precise count of their capacity. Bill Slavin, a chemist and founder of Richmond-based research facility Indie Lab, is looking to establish a lab that tests 10,000 people a day in the central Virginia region.
He estimates the large-scale rapid testing could be up and running within two weeks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday approved its first rapid diagnostic test that could detect the coronavirus in 45 minutes.
Slavin is working on writing grants to fulfill operating and staffing costs, upward of $1 million total, and obtaining a certified lab. His company is also working to provide sterilization for food and supplies and is 3-D printing masks.
“Supply chains are slowing down significantly because of the virus,” Slavin said. “Even if somebody is able to order masks, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to get them. … If we don’t ensure there is a domestic production, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
Tuesday, Northam gave law enforcement the ability to enforce the 10-person limit on gatherings, which applies to restaurants, fitness centers and theaters. Saturday morning, he added that with more than 10 patrons, businesses can lose their operating license on the spot and receive a misdemeanor. There haven’t been any issued yet, he said.
He said he hasn’t made a decision regarding enacting workforce limitations similar to New York, which has mandated reducing on-site nonessential personnel by 50% and work-from-home policies. He doesn’t have criteria for what would lead to that.
“I’m not here to answer ‘what if’s,’ ” Northam said. “I’m telling you where we are today and what we’re doing to keep Virginia safe.”
The governor also said the Virginia Department of Education is considering actions needed to provide relief to students on state-mandated SOLs, which is required to pass the school year, to ensure high school seniors across the commonwealth will graduate.
He referred to Attorney Gen. Mark Herring’s opinion released Friday that gives public bodies and local governments the ability to conduct meetings during the outbreak while maintaining accountability obligations and open government.
“That includes meetings to make decisions that must be made immediately and where failure to do so could result in irrevocable public harm,” Northam said.
Northam also clarified again that activating the Virginia National Guard does not mean it’s mobilized and forcing people to stay home. But they’re on call to help transport supplies needed in health care facilities, he said.
Little, the former emergency care nurse organizing efforts to add to these supplies, said they’re not getting to primary care physicians she’s spoken to. Perriello said she assumed the state is prioritizing hospitals but it won’t be enough, especially with independent clinics not having access to enough protective equipment.
“We need each other more than ever,” Little said.
More than 20,000 people from across the country were slated to flood the Richmond region this weekend for the annual Jefferson Cup youth soccer tournament.
About 18,000 players, parents, coaches, college scouts and family members were supposed to be here last weekend, and more than 20,000 people were to come next weekend as part of the four-weekend tournament, one of the largest of its kind in the nation.
Visitors had booked more than 32,000 hotels rooms throughout the region and as far away as Fredericksburg and Williamsburg for the last three weekends of the tournament. They made reservations at area restaurants and were slated to shop at malls or visit museums or tourist sites.
They never came.
The tournament as well as other sporting events, notably NASCAR’s spring race, and conventions, fundraisers, meetings and weddings were either canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The cancellations are taking a toll on the region’s hospitality, tourism and food service industries, from restaurants and hotels to museums and other tourist sites closing or substantially curtailing operations. For instance, the boutique Quirk Hotels in downtown Richmond and in Charlottesville temporarily have shut down operations.
“It has just been catastrophic,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism, the nonprofit organization that offers services to support the area’s hospitality industry.
“The entire industry has been devastated. We are not alone with this pain,” he said.
The economic impact of the region’s $2.6 billion travel and tourism industry is hard to predict, Berry said, but it undoubtedly will take a big hit.
Tourism in the Richmond region is a big economic driver. It supported 24,400 jobs in 2018 and generated $96.8 million in state taxes and $73.5 million in local taxes that year, according to the latest study conducted for the local tourism organization.
The decreased travel due to the coronavirus also will inflict an $809 billion total hit to the U.S. economy and eliminate 4.6 million travel-related American jobs this year, according to a new analysis released Tuesday by the U.S. Travel Association.
Total spending on travel in the U.S. — transportation, lodging, retail, attractions and restaurants — is projected to plunge 31%, or by $355 billion for the year, the group said. That decline is more than six times the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the group said.
For the Jefferson Cup tournaments, for instance, the region lost a total of between 55,000 and 60,000 visitors over the three weekends. (The tournament’s first weekend was held this month, attracting about 18,000 visitors.)
In 2019, the Jefferson Cup had a $25 million economic impact to the region during the four weekends, according to Richmond Region Tourism.
Not only are the players, the teams and families disappointed about the tournament’s cancellation, others in the region are deeply impacted, said Jay Howell, executive director of the Richmond Strikers soccer club that puts on the annual tournament.
“It has ripple affects,” Howell said. “The impact on the hotels, all of the service industries, all of the gas stations, the grocery stores. It is going to be very difficult on every level, from the players to the businesses.”
Sporting events have contributed significantly to hotel occupancy and to tourism in the Richmond region in the past couple of years.
One of the biggest hits to the local economy will be the postponement of NASCAR’s Cup Series race, which had been scheduled for April 19 at Richmond Raceway.
The spring Cup Series race typically has one of the top nights for hotel occupancy in the region. The 2018 spring race weekend, the latest figures available, pushed hotel occupancy in the Richmond area to 92.4%, making that particular Saturday in April the biggest single night for hotel stays in the region for that entire year.
Beyond the Jefferson Cup and the NASCAR race, 19 other sporting events that had been scheduled for the next eight weeks in the Richmond region have been canceled, Berry said. Those events had booked a total of 7,000 room nights.
At least 15 conventions or large meetings also have been called off in the next eight weeks, Berry said. That is a loss of an additional 11,000 room nights.
One convention that was called off was Trinity Motivation’s spring leadership conference, which was slated to be held the weekends of April 3-5 and April 17-19. About 6,000 people were expected to attend the convention each weekend.
The region has nearly 18,000 rooms at about 160 hotel properties.
The hotel and restaurant industries have been among the hardest hit.
“We have experienced the greatest occupancy decline in three weeks that we have ever experienced, coupled with cancellations of all meetings and the closure of our dining rooms and bars,” said Robert C. Reed, vice president of SMI Hotel Group, the Richmond-based company that owns and manages the Commonwealth Park Suites Hotel and the Delta Hotels by Marriott properties in downtown Richmond, the Four Points by Sheraton Richmond in Chesterfield County, and the Four Points by Sheraton Richmond Airport in Henrico County.
“This has forced us to make tough decisions, resulting in furloughs of salaried staff and drastic cuts in hours to our associates,” Reed said. “Through this, our primary focus has been and remains the health and safety of our team members and guests.
Nick Patel, president of Kalyan Hospitality, a Henrico-based hotel company that operates 18 hotels in Virginia, said occupancy at his properties over the next several weeks is at unprecedented low levels.
“It’s almost nonexistent,” Patel said about occupancy levels. “We have been receiving enormous amounts of cancellations.”
A month ago after coming out of a good winter season, Patel was expecting a pretty strong March. Occupancy levels at the beginning of the month were in the 70% to 75% range and trending strong for the month.
His four hotels in the Richmond region — Comfort Suites in Colonial Heights, Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Petersburg, a Hampton Inn in Petersburg, and a Holiday Inn Express in Hopewell — were booked each weekend for the Jefferson Cup.
Then the coronavirus warnings hit, and that event and others were called off and travel curtailed.
“That really hurt,” he said.
Occupancy at Shamin Hotels, the largest hotel operator in Virginia and in the Richmond region, has declined dramatically at its 38 properties in the region. Its largest local property is the 254-room Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa Short Pump in Henrico. Shamin operates a total of 61 hotels in six states.
“Some hotels are 10% or less occupancy — those that cater more to the business traveler — and some hotels may be as high as 40%,” said Neil Amin, Shamin’s president and CEO.
“The business traveler is nonexistent. They have canceled all travel for the next month. The airport area, the downtown area and the West End are not seeing much traffic at this time,” Amin said,
His hotels that operate along interstate highways are still seeing some bookings.
Chester-based Shamin, which employs thousands of workers, has been forced to furlough some of its full-time employees and reduce the time for its hourly workers.
Restaurants that operate inside the company’s hotels are closed, and Shamin may have to temporarily close some hotel properties.
“It is more about the health and welfare of our associates and our guests,” Amin said. “The positive thing is that everyone is working with the hospitality industry to help the hotel owners and the associates navigate this difficult time.”
The owners of the 74-room Quirk Hotel in downtown Richmond, which opened in September 2015, and the 80-room hotel in Charlottesville, which opened earlier this month, decided to close temporarily.
“These last few weeks, we have watched the travel industry and world halt around us. The ripple effects are vast, and we are feeling them immensely,” said Ted Ukrop, who along with his wife, Katie, own the hotels.
“At this time, we have made the difficult decision that as of [Friday], we are temporarily suspending services and operations at Quirk hotels, restaurants, bars and galleries,” he said in an email. “We know these decisions directly impact our local community, especially our valued colleagues and their families. We are working hard to continue to care for those impacted and quickly address and support their needs.”
Richmond-based Apple Hospitality REIT Inc., the publicly traded company that operates 231 hotels in 34 states, said it is taking steps to try to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on its business. Apple Hospitality’s properties in the Richmond area include the Richmond Marriott hotel in downtown and the Courtyard by Marriott, the Residence Inn by Marriott and the Berkeley Hotel, all in Shockoe Slip.
The company said Friday that all of its hotels remain open and are operational, but it has implemented initiatives at each to reduce labor costs and to curtail certain services and amenities. It also has postponed all nonessential capital improvement projects planned for 2020 and anticipates reducing about $50 million in its already-announced projects for the year.
Apple Hospitality also has suspended its monthly distributions to shareholders and is increasing the amount of cash on hand by taking a recent draw on its credit facility.
Glade M. Knight, the company’s founder and executive chairman, has volunteered to forgo his salary for the next six months, the company said Friday. His 2019 base salary was $367,500, according to the regulatory filings.
His son, Justin G. Knight, Apple Hospitality’s president and CEO, has agreed to reduce his target compensation by 60% this year. His base salary last year was $525,000, the regulatory filings show.
“We do not take these decisions lightly,” Justin Knight said in a statement. “While we do not yet know how long the current situation will last, we will work to reinstate normal operations at our hotels and appropriate distributions to our shareholders as the environment improves.
“We remain confident in the strength of our hospitality platform and the experience and ability of our team to successfully manage these unprecedented times.”
It is uncertain what the total economic impact could be to the Richmond region from the coronavirus or how long it might take for the industry to recover.
“The uncertainty is what is so frustrating,” Richmond Region Tourism’s Berry said.
While Berry said it is too early to determine the fallout from this pandemic, looking at the impact on hotel operations after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the recession that began in 2008 might provide some guidance.
After 9/11, it took the hotels in the Richmond region about 12 months to recover to record levels the properties were generating in occupancy taxes, Berry said.
But, he said, the 2008 recession took the region’s hotel industry longer to recover — about five years for area hotels to return to generating the same record tax revenue levels that they were before the recession.
Local governments are trying to help the tourism industry.
The Henrico Board of Supervisors adopted last week an emergency ordinance eliminating penalties and late fees for restaurants and hotels that are late on paying meals and lodging tax to the county.
County officials said the action will make it easier for business owners to continue paying their employees through the crisis.
“Penalties and interest can become pretty significant,” county Manager John Vithoulkas said. “Our local economy is so reliant on tourism. It’s absolutely been impacted.”
Officials said there are approximately 1,000 restaurants and 90 hotels in Henrico.
The tax relief measure will remain in effect until June 22. It does not apply to any current past-due bills.
The measure helps hotels and restaurants with cash flow issues, Berry said. Restaurants and hotels collect the tax one month and remit it to the locality the following month. Now, this gives hotels some breathing room, Berry said.
Richmond is considering a measure this week to roll out an amnesty program for meals, hotels and admission taxes on those local taxes due between March 13 and June 30. The restaurants and hotels would still owe the city their March tax payment, but removing late fees would allow restaurants to pay the amount down the road without penalties so they can use their existing capital to pay staff and bills in the immediate future.
Other local jurisdictions are expected to approve similar hotel and meals tax relief measures this week.