State Legislature eyes restaurant relief

With outdoor seating no longer viable, restaurants are hoping for assistance as the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated. File photo

ALBANY — A new bill proposed in the state Legislature would create a one-week sales tax exemption for restaurants.

The Save Our New York Restaurants Act, spearheaded by state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-111, would make food and beverages sold by restaurants and taverns tax-exempt for a one-week period. The exemption would apply to indoor dining, takeout and delivery. Fast-food chains are ineligible for the exemption.

Many small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 outbreak and shutdown are on the verge of closing, Jordan said.

“Our bipartisan Save Our NYS Restaurants Act would establish a one-week sales tax exemption for food and drinks sold at restaurants and taverns and, in so doing, help these local establishments,” Jordan said in a statement. “We must continue standing with and supporting our local small businesses and provide them the tools they need not only to reopen, but to remain open, and do so safely and sensibly.”

The one-week exemption will attract more customers, Jordan said.

“Our bipartisan legislation will bring attention and business to our restaurants for that week, and also bring in customers that may not have otherwise planned to eat out,” she said. “This bipartisan bill is a smart step, but New York needs to do even more to help our restaurants and taverns and the thousands of dedicated employees who work at them.”

The restaurant industry nationwide is 2.1 million jobs down from pre-COVID employment levels, according to the National Restaurant Association.

“Anything right now would be helpful,” Michelle Williams, owner of Mermaid Cafe in Catskill, said.

Williams has seen her sales cut in half since she had to stop outdoor seating in October, she said.

“We have two tables inside, six chairs we can fill and people aren’t comfortable sitting inside,” she said, adding that she has been evaluating ways to continue outdoor seating.

“I haven’t come up with anything that’s cost effective, with sales cut in half,” she said.

Liam Singer, owner of Avalon Lounge and HiLo Cafe in Catskill, agreed the exemption would offer a boost to local businesses.

“That would be extremely helpful,” he said. “I think that’s a great idea. The manner in which we’ve had to limit our operations has pretty much guaranteed a significant shortfall this year.”

Sales have dipped at Avalon Lounge without outdoor seating, Singer said.

“We’ve started strategizing about ways to open up to indoor dining, but with numbers rising that hasn’t seemed like a good idea,” he said. “Right now we’re waiting and seeing and definitely hoping that the New York state government and federal government can get it together to offer some help.”

Greene County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Friedman said the bill would have a positive impact on restaurants.

“That would be immensely helpful to businesses and to incentivize folks to do takeout if they’re not comfortable eating in restaurants, or delivery,” he said. “As COVID cases rise, people are getting more concerned about being indoors and rightfully so. Anything that could be done to boost the restaurant industry will be positive.”

Landon Powell, general manager at Grazin’ in Hudson, said even small tax breaks would be helpful right now.

“I would think it would be advantageous for us,” Powell said. “Especially if we’re able to get enough advance notice to coordinate some advertising around it, or maybe bump up specials and bring in extra ingredients, especially because we’re an organic seasonal restaurant bringing in stuff from local farms that we wouldn’t ordinarily source or might not spend money on. We might have the opportunity to broaden menu options, pull in some more suppliers or work with small farms.”

By supporting the restaurants, the bill would also support restaurant employees and communities at large, Jordan said.

“Due to the ongoing COVID outbreak and ensuing economic shutdown, restaurants and taverns across New York state are struggling to remain open, keep their workers employed, and continue serving their respective communities,” Jordan said in a statement. “These restaurants and taverns often have deep, strong roots in the local community, support countless charitable causes and provide tens of thousands of jobs.”

Santabarbara agreed the bill would provide economic support to small businesses.

“Keeping our local businesses open and thriving is absolutely essential to the economic success of not only our communities, but also our entire state,” Santabarbara said in a statement. “This new measure will provide a much-needed boost for small businesses that are owned and operated by our neighbors and friends. Allowing restaurant owners to keep a larger portion of their revenue will help ease the burden they’re facing during these difficult times.”

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