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West Linn restaurants hurting during pandemic, say government aid not enough

It's been nine months since the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives as well as thousands of businesses. While local, state and federal governments have attempted to relieve some of these businesses of their hardships, a pair of West Linn restaurants said the aid they've received has done little to help their struggles.

Doug Nelson, who along with his wife, Landers Boyd, owns Nineteen33 Taproom, called the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) a failure. Nelson surmised PPP was a way for the government to get people off unemployment and back under a payroll, but did nothing to help those businesses paying the employees.

Nelson added that while employees were taken care off with unemployment funds and PPP, people like him — small business owners — were "hung out to dry by the government."

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Spectator Pizza & Pub owner Rob Pierce said the government aid his restaurant has received during the pandemic hasn't made a big difference. Spectator Pizza & Pub owner Rob Pierce felt similarly about the government's aid. Pierce said Spectator received some help from PPP, but not enough to make any real difference.

Nelson said he applied for nearly every grant he could at the local, state and federal level but was successful on about 5% of those applications. He received $8,000 total in grants, "which doesn't really make up for the losses," he said.

According to Nelson, Nineteen33 has lost $100,000 in the last year.

He said the hardest times have been when the restaurant is open at a limited capacity. When the restaurant is only open for takeout, Nelson explained he only needs two or three employees at each shift. Customers dining in the restaurant (and on the patio) means he needs at least two more employees on during each shift. Considering payroll is Nineteen33's biggest expense, Nelson said this is when the restaurant loses the most money.

"Everybody's in the same boat where you build out an infrastructure that costs money based on what the potential of your business's space is," Nelson said. "When there is a government mandate that limits your earning potential, you still have to pay for the infrastructure and so your costs remain the same even though your potential sales are half of what they were."

Nelson mentioned the city government provided Nineteen33 with a tent, heater, a few tables and chairs as another form of aid, but it wasn't the help he was looking for.

"They had to spend money as part of the CARES act, but it wasn't what we needed and I told them at the time it wasn't what we needed," he said. "To minimize waste on the aid, it has to be far more targeted than what it was, but to be able to target it better, you have to have a government that's more organized than ours."

Spectator has added three outside tables and a heater as well, but currently most customers are coming in for takeout.

"Parents don't want their kids outside in the cold for too long. We do occasionally get the beer drinkers who are OK with sitting outside, especially if the game's on. We have TV out there," said Brian, a Spectator employee of six years.

Brian said one of the things he misses of working in pre-pandemic times was having customers come in, sit down and enjoy themselves.

"We miss the table service and interactions with customers," he said. "I need everyone to follow the rules so that we can be open again."

Both Spectator and Nineteen33 were exceptionally grateful for the customer support they've seen throughout the pandemic. Nelson said Oregonians seem particularly conscious of the importance of small, local businesses.

"I feel like we've always gone above and beyond for our customers and treated them with respect and valued them. We've developed a pretty loyal customer base that way. The people have been great this year, truly," Nelson said. "I think they've all been conscious and aware of what's been going on for the most part and understand the ramifications and the outcome if restaurants and small businesses don't get their support right now."


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