Opinion | Small restaurants need help

With COVID-19 still on the rampage, we need to help local businesses get through the pandemic instead of large chains.


Raquele Decker

The Mill building is seen shut down on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.

Signe Nettum, Opinions Columnist

While I have always enjoyed a home-cooked meal, sometimes a restaurant has just what I need.

When COVID-19 hit Iowa City and local restaurants closed for an undetermined time, I knew that people were affected on many different levels. From the selfish level of not being able to go to my favorite pizza place, to the level of people’s livelihoods taking a financial hit and possibly losing everything.

Four months after leaving Iowa City, I have seen how various restaurants around Madison, where I’m taking classes online, and Iowa City have taken the blow of having to close down for certain amounts of time. Some have managed to keep afloat, and some have actually thrived during this time. But, unfortunately, there are many that never opened back up.

We all know of the government stimulus packages for restaurants. But did you know that various large companies and chain restaurants earned small-business stimulus instead of actual local restaurants? A study from the Bank of America found that spending at small chains and independent restaurants fell behind large chains by about 20 percent nationwide.

As I watched this chaos from afar and listened to how the government tried to help restaurants stay open with stricter rules to keep everyone safe, I kept wondering — how is this going to end? Are government officials actually helping restaurants, or keeping them at a lower level of being able to function?

Madison laid down more rules for restaurants recently — down to 25 percent capacity, patrons can only sit with their family, and the groups must be six or less.

Meanwhile, there have been a few cases of restaurants not following precautions. Should they be receiving more money from customers because they do not care to follow precautions? What about those that follow the rules religiously yet struggle to stay afloat?

However, there have been repercussions to those restaurants who do not follow mask mandates. A restaurant in Middleton, Wisconsin, is facing backlash over their decision to not have masks worn by their workers or patrons.

The owner stated in his GoFundMe page, “the city-county order requiring face coverings in all indoor spaces outside the home is unlawful and should be opposed in court.” Reported on Aug. 21 by the Madison State Journal, Helbach’s “has lost its lease in Middleton and will be closing on Aug. 31.”

As I watch the community of independent restaurants raise their hackles at each other, contrary to a time before COVID-19 when they backed each other up, I wonder how they can go back to the way things were, post pandemic.

I cannot help them, other than providing business for them, promoting them to my friends, and buying gift cards for a future visit. As of now, those are the best ways to help. Keep independent restaurants in business by dining local, while still keeping yourself safe.

Do not go to restaurants not taking precautions; do not help them at the expense of your own health. Ignore those who bash facts about COVID-19 and instead help those who are trying to stay afloat with the new regulations.

They need us more than ever right now.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.