How small businesses in western Pennsylvania are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic

We may see the curve starting to flatten in Pennsylvania -- now businesses say it’s time to reopen and bring back the economy.

On Thursday, state lawmakers today held a hearing in the Senate chamber, and on Zoom, to evaluate the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the three-hour hearing, legislators were joined by those who represent small businesses and others who’ve been shut down. They asked Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID 19 executive team about how and when small businesses will get to reopen and voiced some frustrations as well.

"Just as we must consider the expertise of medical professionals, we are obligated to do the same with the struggle of those fighting to save their business and the jobs of the hardworking men and women they employ,” said Republican Sen. Thomas Killion.

Those who represent small businesses in our state say it’s time for a game plan of how to get Pennsylvania’s economy back off the ground.

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"They’re struggling. They have a lot of frustration with the opaque waiver process and they want to know how they can safely reopen and serve their community,” said Democrat Sen. Lindsey Williams.

Fifty percent of the state’s jobs are within the small business realm -- so timing is critical.

“Tragically I’ve been hearing and getting calls from small business owners saying we’re really right at that edge right now and if we don’t get some relief through the PPP program or other means we’ve got another few days and we’re done.” said Gordon Denlinger, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business

Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development secretary said while things were shutting down three weeks ago, the process to get things back up and running was already in motion.

"We were working on a number of different things but opening up the economy was one of them and the governor made it very clear that he wanted to see that. To that end, we’re in the final stages of putting together guidelines for businesses as they open up, what they need to look for, how they can do it in a healthy way,” said the Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin.

Davin and others from the governor’s office say they’re working on securing enough protective equipment like masks for employers.


Local restaurants teaming up to stay in business

Kelly’s Riverside Saloon in Beaver is a unique spot. It’s an Irish pub with its own Caribbean island.

“And honestly a day like today we would have tables full. We would have three bars that are open,” manager Amanda Yerages said.

But instead it’s empty — and it might have to stay that way for a while.

The business has already taken a significant hit and so have its employees.

“Because these guys work off tips and that’s their bread and butter and we need to figure out any sort of way to make them comfortable,” Yerages said.

So, to keep employees on the payroll and help other small businesses stay afloat — they came up with an idea.

They teamed up with Augustine’s Pizza in New Castle, Manicini’s Bakery in McKees Rocks and Jkells Front Door Tavern in Beaver to offer a grocery style menu.

People can buy bulks of bread, meat and even cleaning supplies like paper towels and hand sanitizer.

They are taking this proactive approach to help each other through this tough time and take care of their community.

You can order the food and supplies online or over the phone.

For information on curbside pick up and delivery options, click here to visit their website.


Frustrations growing for salon owners

In Zigszen Salon in Wexford, you can see chairs are empty and the owner says so are the cash registers. But what’s growing is frustration.

“Please tell me -- our owners -- how are we supposed to make a living? said owner Ziggy Murin.

Murin sounds said he is upset with Gov. Tom Wolf

He says the governor’s continued statewide stay-at-home order while rolling out plans to reopen businesses gradually is putting his family business and his employees financial futures at risk.

“He mentioned nothing about salons. It’s like he’s PennDOT. Red, yellow, green. Just let us open one at a time," Murin said.

Murin points out hair and nail salons, including day spas, are already required to disinfect between clients and receive regular state board inspections.

“We are ready to bring in the public even it it has to be half occupation or stagger our guests whatever we need to do,” said Melissa Agnew, owner of Salon Blanca.

Salon Blanca has two locations in Shadyside and Seven Fields

“My landlords won’t get paid bills are backing up so it’s a really bad situation,” Agnew said.

A growing number of business owners throughout our area say they are likely to reopen May 8, risking citations.


Businesses learning insurance doesn’t cover a global pandemic

Outside of small businesses, a lot of parking lots are empty like where we are in Sewickley.

It's why a lot of these businesses get insurance in case there's any interruption, they're covered.

The problem is some of those businesses are learning that insurance doesn't cover a global pandemic.

“You don't know how long you can survive without bringing money in and still being paying bills, your rent, people you pay to do things for you,” said Rain Hoffman, the owner of Rain’s Skin Protection.

Rain’s Skin Protection in Sewickley is used to being full of customers. A reality that came to an end last month when the governor closed all nonessential businesses to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

That's when business interruption insurance kicks in for a lot of businesses impacted, except many policies don't cover health emergencies.

“That's what you have it for. So if you can't even use it if you have something no one foresaw, it doesn't make any sense to me,” Hoffman said.

It's led to lawsuits from restaurants like Tambellini's in Highland Park and Sieb's Pub in Ross Township, demanding insurance coverage.

But some lawmakers are pushing for another way to handle it.

State Sen. Jim Brewster is co-sponsoring a bill in Harrisburg that would temporarily override the provisions, allowing claims to be filed due to the coronavirus.

“I think it's something we're obligated to do because as government, we created this problem to the extent that we had to do something to protect people’s health,” Brewster said.

How quickly that could happen is unclear.

A similar bill is also making its way through the legislature in New Jersey. It’s part of the reason Brewster is hopeful this bill will get bipartisan support.