Route 51 packed with small businesses struggling to stay afloat during COVID-19 pandemic

PITTSBURGH — There are few roads packed with more businesses than Route 51 South, spanning from southern neighborhoods in Pittsburgh down to the edge of Allegheny County.

That’s also made the road uniquely susceptible to restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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Restaurants like Frank & Shirley’s in Overbrook are struggling to stay open, despite serving the community for nearly four decades.

“We used to go out and have a good time and then come here late at night, and that was the thing,” remembered Gina Macklan as she sat in a booth next to her twin sister. “Now, we come here to get a break from life to come and have lunch.”

Whether Macklan and her sister Lisa Healy will be able to continue making those memories could hinge on how soon things can get back to normal.

Like most businesses, Frank & Shirley’s continues to feel the impacts of state restrictions that help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Indoor capacity is now up to 50%, but it’s still a struggle for the family-owned business to stay open.

It’s forced Jean Tennerelli and her son to have some difficult conversations.

“(We’re) going month to month, actually. He said he doesn’t know how much longer this is going to work,” Tennerelli said.

Statewide restrictions have forced hundreds of western Pennsylvania businesses to shut down, some for good.

But whether that will be on the minds of voters as they cast their ballots depends on who you ask.

Tennerelli wants to see national and state leaders do more to help her family’s business.

“They have to step up and do something,” she said.

But sisters Macklan and Healy see it differently.

“The whole world has COVID-19,” Healy said.

She doesn’t blame President Donald Trump or any other leaders for the pandemic’s spread, adding it won’t impact her vote.

Traditionally, in a presidential election, what happens at the top of the ticket trickles down to lower ballot races.

But state restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is impacting everyone’s life.

Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO John Longstreet believes it could be on the minds of voters.

“People may be looking at down-ballot elections more than they have in normal times. Nothing is normal with what we’re going through now,” he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf isn’t on the ballot, but every member of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives and half of the state Senate is.

Longstreet, who’s spoken with legislators and the governor’s office about easing restrictions, believes voters may be more engaged in down-ballot races in 2020 than previous years.

Tennerelli hopes whoever wins will have small, family-owned businesses in mind as they figure out how to protect the public.