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Concerns of restaurant, bar owners addressed at meeting

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Gordy Snyder, of Johnson's Cafe comments during a town hall meeting on the impact of COVID restrictions on bars and restaurnats at the Trout Run Volunteer Fire Company Monday. The meeting was led by the PA Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.

Restaurant owners were urged by two state lawmakers and Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage & Tavern Association officials to fight back against restrictions placed on their businesses due to COVID-19.

“We have been doing everything we can to help restaurants and bars,” state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, told restaurant and bar owners who gathered for the meeting Monday at the Trout Run Vol. Fire Hall.

The problem, he said, is that Gov. Wolf has successfully beaten back attempts by Republican

lawmakers to ease restrictions since the onset of the pandemic.

“Right now, we are living in a one-man rule,” he said. “It’s been very frustrating to those of us in the Legislature.”

Everett and state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland, said Democrats need to feel the pressure from their constituents to help restaurants and bars successfully conduct business.

Masser, a restaurant owner, noted the 25 percent occupancy restriction placed on eating establishments is among the challenges he and other business owners face.

Chuck Moran, executive director of the Beverage & Tavern Association, reminded the group that with the state Legislature back in session next month, now is the time to put pressure on lawmakers.

Moran said restaurants were targeted for shut-downs early on and unfairly receive much of the blame for the spread of coronavirus.

Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce President Jason Fink said he feels part of the problem is the misleading information being put out about COVID-19.

While numbers of coronavirus cases locally have increased of late, the county has done a good job of keeping overall numbers down.

Only about 400 of the county’s 113,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus, he noted.

The whole story, Fink said, needs to be told.

“The story being told right now is that of fear,” Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare said. “We need to change the narrative.”

The county, he said, needs to be back open 100 percent.

Masser said officials from the state Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement drop in on restaurants and bars to see if they follow restrictions.

His own establishment received a visit to ensure employees were wearing masks.

“I’ve been warned twice for employees not wearing masks,” Doug Tennett, owner of Tennett’s Iron Horse Saloon, Dushore, said.

He explained that those employees couldn’t wear masks due to health problems.

Overall, Tennett said he’s found it a bit tough to be in business with the coronavirus restrictions.

“I still have my regulars who come in,” he said.

He said he worries about visits from the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.

Among the recommendations being proposed by the Pennsylvania Tavern Association are:

• Passage of House Bill 2615 to provide grants to assist with COVID-19-related business losses and expenses.

• Passage of Senate Bill 1194 or similar legislation providing limited civil immunity from liability for bars, taverns and restaurants that attempt, in good faith, to adhere to the provisions of the COVID-19 emergency declaration, the governor’s closure order and other executive orders related to the pandemic.

• Encourage outdoor seating by making the free temporary licensed premise extensions permanent at no additional cost to the licensee.

• Elimination of all license fees and surcharges for liquor-related service establishments for two years provided the establishment had previously allowed on-site consumption.

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