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3 weeks until bars and restaurants could open, much work to prepare

Mike Desmond

With the possibility of bars and restaurants being allowed to open in three weeks, the City of Buffalo is rushing to help those establishments get ready, perhaps even to allow sidewalk and street closings to help.

There is a lot at stake, with Common Councilmember Joel Feroleto reminding a news conference Tuesday that there were 50,000 jobs in the hospitality industry when the city locked down in March. Now, that might change and change quickly.

Mayor Byron Brown has set up a working group of people in the industry and at City Hall to help restart hospitality, with a virtual meeting Wednesday morning. The mayor said there will be applications for help on the city website starting Monday.

Office of Strategic Planning Director Brendan Mehaffy said the needs of the businesses are different.

"That you wouldn't have thought about just a few months ago, in social distancing and face masks, because none of us wants to see us going back to the place that we were just a few weeks ago," he said. "So we all need to work together as a community to make sure that we are maintaining our social distance and wearing our face masks, but we need to do it in a way, as well, that supports our small businesses."

The news conference was held outside Osteria 166 at Franklin and Mohawk downtown, with owner Nick Pitillo pointing to the adjacent block of Mohawk and suggesting he might ask the city to close that block of street at times for restaurant tables. It has been done before.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Osteria 166 owner Nick Pitillo stands outside his restaurant, hoping customers will return.

"For anniversary parties, for meatball parties, etc., so it doesn't really hinder the flow of the city which helps tremendously," Pitillo said. "I think that you will see - I'm not positive yet - but I think you will see well-spaced out tables. There's been talk of no more than six people in a group, maybe it's tables of six. We have six-foot round tables. You're obviously social distancing across tables."

Frederick Daniel, who owns Freddy J's on Grant Street, said people across the city are working together to make sure they can operate within the social distancing rules.

Feroleto, who is chairing City Hall's effort, said it is going to be tough to restart, with rules allowing perhaps half the customers allowed before the lockdown.

"Extremely challenging if not impossible for them to run a profitable restaurant at that capacity level," he said. "So by allowing businesses to expand into the sidewalk, into public areas and safely serve more people, it gives the restaurant a much higher likelihood of being successful."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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