Anthony and Joanne D’Amelio inside Verdi’s Restaurant in Waterbury.

Column By State Representative

Anthony D’Amelio

Running a business, especially a restaurant, is difficult in the best of times, but during a pandemic with rolling state-mandated closures and constantly changing restrictions and guidelines it has become a nearly impossible task.

Don’t get me wrong, this is the profession I chose to devote my life to when I took a chance and opened my first restaurant in my early 20s. A choice I made believing that with hard work and a quality product I could provide for my family, and help others earn a living while learning new, marketable life skills.  For more than 30 years, I’ve been fortunate to share my success with the customers and staff I love. We know most customers by name – certainly by their favorite dish – and my staff, especially those who have been with me for years, are part of one big, extended family. 

When my family is threatened, I will speak out.

There is no doubt that this pandemic is real, dangerous and deadly.  However, while the physical toll to our community is measured in daily briefings from the governor and posted on the news, there has been less discussion about the other pressing mental, fiscal and societal impacts that come from forced isolation, lack of contact, and lost jobs, among others.

In my industry, the pandemic and subsequent restrictions have been brutal; the Courant recently reporting that more than 600 Connecticut restaurants have already closed their doors with hundreds more on the brink.  That figure is staggering, but becomes much more frightening when we consider the thousands of other businesses and the tens of thousands of their employees who need to earn a living.  The restaurant owner, wait staff and cooks are only the tip of one huge iceberg that also includes linen service, equipment repair, cleaning crews, liquor wholesalers, truck drivers, trash companies, etc. These are your neighbors and friends.

And we’re not alone.  Barbers and hair stylists, gym and workout facilities and small manufacturers of all kinds are under fire from policies that appear to be driven only by emotion, not science.  No employer wants their employees or customers to get sick, and no employer wants to see their life’s work shut down and their employees put on unemployment based on unknown and unshared data.

We don’t deny that science will solve the pandemic. It stands to reason it should be used for the basis for any decision regarding controlling the spread. However, it is not. Without consideration for science, random industries are being singled out for harsher restrictions or closure. The restaurant industry and other small businesses are being used as scapegoats, despite meeting or exceeding every published directive or guideline from the state.  We’ve poured over the guidance to make sure we comply, purchased PPE and made dozens of accommodations including reducing our capacity and switching to disposable utensils and menus; costs all borne by the business owner.

Businesses across our state are struggling to survive. Many will not make it through the imminent recession the pandemic will eventually bring. These businesses, and the employees who count on them, need your support now more than ever.  If you can, please shop local this holiday season.

We all hope for a miracle cure, unfortunately, right now many small business owners are also hoping they can survive.

Rep. D’Amelio represents the 71st district covering Waterbury and Middlebury.