Shady Maple "touch-less" buffet

Signs are displayed all around Shady Maple Smorgasbord, directing customers to use the sanitation before going up to the buffet as part of the restaurant's "touchless" buffet in response to COVID-19, Friday, July 31, 2020. The Lancaster County staple opened back up to the public on July 9.

Weary business executives reacted with anger and frustration to Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision on Thursday to temporarily close restaurants, gyms, theaters and certain other businesses in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The shutdown, which starts Saturday and runs until Monday, Jan. 4, bans indoor dining at restaurants, which had been allowed to operate at 50% capacity, although takeout, delivery and outdoor dining are still permitted.

The order also closes gyms, theaters and other facilities, but lets stores continue to operate at 50% of capacity.

Al Duncan, CEO of the company that operates Miller Smorgasbord and Smokehouse BBQ & Brews, called Wolf’s order “very unfair and very unjust,” wondering why stores were excluded from the shutdown and restaurants have to go dark again.

Duncan also was miffed that the order’s quick effective date gives restaurants virtually no time to whittle down their inventory of thousands of dollars of perishable food, meaning it will have to thrown away -- a loss not covered by insurance.

Rick Casselbury, owner of Universal Athletic Club, called Wolf’s announcement “devastating.”

“I don’t know why we are being lumped in with restaurants and bars because we are uniquely different. Our industry as a whole has had no spreading of the virus. It’s 500% more probable to run into someone outside the club who has it, than inside the club,” he said.

Like Duncan, Casselbury was angered by the governor changing the status of businesses with minimal notice.

“This is a slap on our face,” he said.  “You just can’t turn a business on and off like that… It’s not how it works and it makes zero sense. And am I supposed to lay my employees off through Christmas and later come back at 50%? How am I going to do that?”

Penn Ketchum, managing partner of Penn Cinema and owner of The New Main movie theater in Ephrata, also called the order to reduce his business operations from 10% of capacity to zero a “devastating setback.”

“I am trying to focus on the silver lining that I will be able to enjoy the complete Christmas season with my family. I will wear my mask and look forward to better days ahead,” Ketchum said.

Tom Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber, said Wolf “has made a devastating public health situation even more devastating for business…

“The continued targeted mitigation toward specific businesses is severely impacting their future survival.  Compounding the devastation is the countless number of employees who now face an uncertain future,” Baldrige said. 

Baldrige added that the chamber was “discouraged” that Wolf chose these actions without input from the business community or any financial relief for the affected businesses.

Spokesmen for Sight & Sound, the county’s biggest tourist attraction, and Spooky Nook Sports, the largest indoor sports complex in North America, did not respond to emails seeking their reactions to Wolf’s order.

Restaurateurs, though, were openly incensed by Wolf’s order.

Mick Owens, owner of three Mick’s All American Pub locations as well as Maize Mexican Cantina, called Wolf’s announcement “frustrating.” Like Duncan, he too wondered why restaurants didn’t get more warning and why stores escaped any tighter restrictions.

He added, “The governor in his own statements said this outbreak is caused by family gatherings,” so focusing on restaurants “doesn’t make any sense. Why would you shut down restaurants then? Because we’re the easy scapegoat.”

Lin Weaver, co-owner of Shady Maple Smorgasbord, the county’s largest restaurant, called the shutdown “very unfortunate” and unnecessary.

“We are large enough to be safe and social distance,” he said. “We have done everything possible to be safe and stop the spread of COVID. For us to close again is an extreme hardship. We have food bought and prepped for Saturday and next week. Plus needing to lay off employees again causes all kinds of challenges.”

Wolf’s new mitigation measures won’t make much of a difference for Josh Funk. On Monday, Funk temporarily closed Annie Bailey’s in Lancaster and Per Diem at Rock Lititz. His third eatery, Gravie, also at Rock Lititz, has been dark since the pandemic began.

“I thought it was the right business decision,” Funk said, adding that he preferred to make that choice himself “and not let the government dictate what happens in my business.”

Greg Wax, owner of Reel Cinema, labeled Wolf’s action “unfair.”

“(Wolf) is treating movie theaters more harshly than other retail businesses. We are supposed to close completely. However, theaters are much larger. ... We take the temperature of people going in, we spray surfaces every half hour and we have a good air circulation system.”

Wax, like other business owners, said his kind of business is not the problem, noting that Wolf himself put the blame on family gatherings.

“They didn’t think these orders out.  I like Gov. Wolf but I don’t understand where he is coming from on this. We are already at 10% capacity; that’s 10 people per auditorium.  This is ridiculous. I don’t get it…This is really damaging.”

A spokesperson for Lititz recCenter declined to comment. Spokespersons for Prestige Gymnastics and Hempfield recCenter could not be reached for comment.

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