Dear Governor Northam and Members of the General Assembly,
As you can see, this is not a restaurant review. What the world does not need right now is another review. Food criticism necessarily assumes the existence of a healthy, thriving, functioning restaurant scene. And here in Richmond and throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, the restaurant scene, at present, is neither healthy, thriving, nor functional.
I use this opportunity, instead, to urge you to consider adopting interim measures that would provide economic relief and protection to Virginia restaurants, bars, and workers impacted by the recent coronavirus outbreak.
The impact has been severe and unprecedented. In the interest of controlling the further spread of the virus, many restaurants and bars decided to close, even before the Commonwealth began imposing restrictions. The decision to close, while advancing public health goals, has come at a tremendous cost to those establishments and their workers, many of whom are now in dire financial straits.
Restaurant and bar owners face uncertainty – not knowing whether they can continue providing a safety net for their workers, while ensuring that their businesses remain solvent. Some businesses, in fact, have done the math and determined that survival is an impossibility. Permanent closures, precipitated by the outbreak, have already been announced.
Cities like Richmond have put in place tax relief for local restaurants and bars. But tax relief at the local level does not address all the ways in which those businesses and their employees have been affected the most – at the basic human level, in being able to pay their bills and make ends meet.
Statewide measures should be adopted to combat these concerns. Measures that our government should consider include a guarantee of universal basic income, paid sick leave protection, debt and tax relief, rent abatement and eviction protection, small business grants and increased lines of credit, and other subsidies. The state should also partner and be in dialogue with restaurant and bar owners and labor and worker organizations to more fully understand and respond to on-the-ground problems as they unfold.
For those restaurant and bar employees who find themselves without the ability to continue working as they did before, the state should provide emergency housing support for renters and expanded access to food security programs. It should also follow the lead of other states that extend unemployment insurance and benefits to workers whose workplace has been shut down or who are at home caring for others, such as the elderly or school-aged children.
We owe it to these hardworking individuals to ensure that they, like the rest of us, can ride out this storm without suffering financial ruin. The Commonwealth will endure. So too should these individuals who proudly call the Commonwealth their home.
In the City of Richmond, restaurants and bars and the people they employ have long contributed in significant ways to enriching our city economically and culturally and making our city a more inviting place to live. They have also played a critical role in bringing national attention and prominence to both Richmond and the Commonwealth. If we do not adequately support and sustain them now, in what is possibly the worst of times, I fear that they will never fully recover, even after the worst is finally over.
Thank you for your service and commitment to all the people of the Commonwealth throughout this extraordinarily difficult time.
Restaurant Critic for the Richmond Times-Dispatch