Small business, restaurant owners call on lawmakers for help as they face bleak holiday season

Small business, restaurant owners call on lawmakers for help as they face bleak holiday season

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh-area small business owners, service-industry employees and others pleaded with local and state leaders for financial relief ahead of what they called a “bleak” holiday season.

“I honestly don’t know how we’re going to be able to do this,” said owner of Mr. Smalls Theatre Liz Berlin.

Berlin said the last show the Millvale venue hosted was on March 9, almost nine months ago. She said the theatre typically holds over 300 major events every year, but due the pandemic, the staff has been reduced to just six people, who mainly work in the facility’s coffee shop. She also pointed out the ripple effects events at the theater have for nearby businesses.

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“We want Mr. Smalls to survive this,” Berlin said.

Others echoed that sentiment in their statements. One restaurant worker said the pandemic has laid bare the failures of the industry, such as working for tips. Another service-industry employee talked about how she now has to work two jobs and still only makes half of what she did before the pandemic. A freelance lighting director said she watched as her career evaporated in March when COVID-19 started to take hold and things first shut down.

“These jobs are real. People’s livelihoods are being significantly impacted,” she said.

Rep. Sara Innamorato (D) also spoke at the news conference, and blasted the recently passed state budget as “compassionless.” She said 1-in-6 Pennsylvanians can’t put food on the table and 1-in-5 are struggling to pay rent. She said state lawmakers simply plugged budget holes instead of helping people struggling and she said federal lawmakers failed in not passing another COVID-19 relief package.

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