As small businesses cut hours or close due to the coronavirus pandemic, Manassas is offering some small relief to its restaurants.
With additional space between seats, the city council Monday waived penalties and interest for late meals tax payments until June 20. The change applies retroactively to payments missed on March 20 (meals taxes are supposed to be paid on the 20th of every month). The measure was passed in a unanimous vote.
“The intent behind this was to provide some minimal amount of relief that’s in our authority, that may help some of these small business owners,” said Patrick Small, the city’s economic development director.
Without knowing exactly how many businesses had ceased operations in the city or how many people had lost jobs since social distancing measures took hold in Virginia, Small said almost every service-industry business has been seriously affected.
“Retail is getting clobbered. … The hotel industry is getting clobbered. Restaurants are getting clobbered,” Small said. How bad things get, he said, “all depends on how long this lasts.”
Annually, the city collects about $4.5 million from the meals tax, according to Small.
Beginning Wednesday, March 25, restaurants in Virginia will be limited to takeout or delivery.
On March 20, Okra’s Cajun Creole owner Charles Gilliam told InsideNoVa that he started the week with 25 people on staff. By the weekend, he was down to 3, with no way to make up the revenue that would come from full tables through take-out and delivery. He estimated that his sales were down by about 80%.
Gilliam said a take-out model doesn’t really fit his restaurant, so he’s considering starting a pilot subscription service, where a family can pay $250 per month for 20 catered meals. He’s hoping to get 20 families signed up and see how it goes.
Every other restaurant owner he talks to, Gilliam says, is facing the same daunting situation.
“Necessity is the mother of invention, therefore we shall invent,” Gilliam said. “We are cooperatively competing right now but we’re talking to each other every day trying to figure out what works. If I’m doing something that’s working, I’m sharing it with somebody. At least we’re coming together better than we have before.”
Gov. Ralph Northam has been encouraging workers who have been laid off or had their hours cut to immediately file for unemployment benefits through the Virginia Employment Commission, even if they’ve been denied previously. Last week, his office announced that the commission would be expanding eligibility for the program, through which those who lose their jobs can receive as much as $378 per week.
Without releasing official statewide numbers, the state has reported a large surge in applications. The governor is also encouraging businesses impacted to apply for small business loans.
At the council meeting Monday night, Councilmember Mark Wolfe said he expected significant strains on the city’s budget due to increased need for assistance from the city and decreased tax receipts.
“It is going to take an absolutely all-hands-on-deck effort to get through this and to come out on the other side,” he said. “Whether that’s 15 days, two months, six months or whatever it is.”