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Georgia restaurants stay open, but struggle

Banner 2020 snuffed by pandemic.

ATLANTA — Georgia restaurant boosters say the Corona virus outbreak has all but shut down many restaurants in Atlanta and beyond. While nine other states have either closed or ordered restaurants to accept takeout-only business, Georgia hasn't.

On St. Patrick's Day, the Marlay House in Decatur would have been enjoying its biggest day of the year.

"Right now, we’d probably have a hundred fifty people in here," said Colin Comer, the Marlay House proprietor as midafternoon approached on a pleasant late winter day Monday.

This year, St. Patrick’s Day business was a trickle, with barely a dozen patrons inside. Comer cancelled musical performances and other special amenities typical for a holiday celebration.  "It’s, Christmas day is cancelled kind of situation," Comer said. "But we’ll get through it." The Marlay House has been in business for nearly 12 years on the west side of Decatur's downtown.

Comer says the Marlay House is in an awkward spot this year – staying open for customers and employees – yet discouraging crowds in the face of a worldwide pandemic.

"You're trying to figure out how to keep (staff) getting paid. All the while being socially conscious and doing the right thing," he said. The pub has 24 employees.

For the restaurant industry, 2020 started as a record-setter, according to the Georgia Restaurant Association, "and new restaurants opening every day," said Karen Bremer, who runs the GRA.

"Sales were brisk. We were doing just fine," agrees Matt Hinton, who opened a third Bell Street Burrito location in Tucker last year.  His other two are in Atlanta.

Hinton says customer traffic fell off a cliff middle of last week.  

He took down tables – set up “social distancing” space in the dining room – yet expects it to get even worse.  "I would say what, maybe twenty percent of independent restaurants in Atlanta are not going to survive this," Hinton said.

Hinton said he's adjusting his restaurant's menu to make takeout more appealing 

The Georgia Restaurant Association would like for the state to declare an economic state of emergency – which Bremer says would give restaurants access to low interest government loans to help them get back on their feet – if they can survive the pandemic.

Monday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp asked the Small Business Administration to make such loans available to struggling businesses.

Bremer says customers can continue to support their favorite restaurants by purchasing carry-out food and gift cards, which they can redeem after the pandemic passes. 

"A lot of our customers are supporting us anyway, which is great," Comer said of the Marlay House's takeout business. "It’s obviously a far cry from what it normally would have been."

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