Burlington businesses say state’s spigot turns may not be enough

Published: Jul. 17, 2020 at 4:46 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 17, 2020 at 8:57 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The long term economic impact of the coronavirus is starting to be felt in Vermont’s downtowns. Despite the state’s effort to reopen the economy, many merchants are still struggling and are concerned about what the future holds.

As Vermont officials try to reopen the spigot to something resembling pre-COVID conditions, some businesses say they may not be able to survive the new normal.

“We went from being an 82-seat restaurant, bar, music venue to being able to seat 16 people,” said Jacob Shane, the owner of Deli 126, a 1920s inspired jazz club on College Street in Burlington.

He says they are open, but not doing indoor seating. To keep business going, he says they've turned to to-go drinks and limited outdoor seating, but that it's still a struggle to stay afloat.

"There is just no way to translate what we did inside to outside, and that's a really hard thing to deal with," Shane said.

Deli 126 is like many other bars across the Queen City and the state that are left wondering what's going to happen if COVID conditions continues. And will people eventually even want to go back inside bars?

"We normally -- you make most of your money in the summer and in the fall, and that's what gets you through the winter, because the winter is the slowest season. You take away outdoor seating in October because it's cold. We are going to go to zero revenue and I don't know how long we can hold on," Shane said.

Retail stores owners like Micheal Kehoe can relate. The high-end men's clothing store bearing his name has been a rock in Burlington for over 40 years. He says he's confident he can make it through the tough times, but sales are down 50 percent from normal. "Honestly, we don't see that improving in the short term future," Kehoe said.

“The impact is pretty significant,” said Kelly Devine with the Burlington Business Association. She says she is hearing from everybody that numbers are down -- both restaurants and retail -- by half from last year. “This is a week-by-week situation for a lot of our small business and restaurants.

Major national brands with a presence in Burlington are also feeling the pain. Where Gap and Eddie Bauer once did business, now sit empty storefronts. Devine says there was one vacancy downtown before the coronavirus hit and now they are looking at around 10.

As those that remain try to reel in shoppers by setting up outside, Devine says it's ultimately up to consumers to make sure the rest of the downtown doesn't start to close. "These are our local businesses and if we want them to stay around we need to support them," she said.

As Deli 126′s Jacob Shane worries about what’s next for his business, he knows he is not alone. “Establishments that are built into the culture of Burlington are struggling,” he said.

It’s still not clear what the final impact may be, but businesses we spoke with that are staying open say their first goal is to make it through the summer.

Copyright 2020 WCAX. All rights reserved.

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