Struggling restaurant owners outraged after NYC completely closes outdoor dining option

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Restaurant owners on Midtown Manhattan's 52nd street were outraged Tuesday evening after learning from New York City officials that they would be unable to provide outdoor seating for their patrons due to caution tape blocking the express bus lane.

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Photo courtesy of Charles Devigne

According to local restaurant Pescatore's director of operations Charles Devigne, seven restaurants on the street are typically allowed to use the express bus lane for outdoor dining between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and then after 7 p.m., when buses aren't running.

Photo courtesy of Charles Devigne

Tuesday evening, however, city officials notified managers of the seven restaurants on the street that the lane was scheduled to be painted and that there was no way to reschedule.

Photo courtesy of Charles Devigne

"This obviously is a one night interruption and, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't seem to be the end of the world, but when you're already sort of teetering on the edge, this is really just a bad blow," Devigne told FOX Business.

However, he said the city's agencies should have informed them and coordinated with the restaurants on the street before making a decision.

"It's more important that we have the seven restaurants that are in front that depend on this as a dining room to be open," he added.

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Mercedes Manso, a manager at another restaurant on the street called Socaratt Paella Bar, told FOX Business that while she is thankful that her restaurant can use the bus lane, the incovenience caused by the painting adds to the overall stress of restaurants on the street already struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's just, you know, poor planning by the city," Manso said. "When they know that restaurants rely on outdoor dining business, it would just be very helpful that we can make it like a win win so they can do it maybe in the morning instead of, you know, dining primetime at six and seven o'clock when we do the majority of our business. It's just like there's no consideration for us and that's really frustrating."

She noted that her restaurant is already operating at limited capacity and doing its best to stay afloat.

"We've been really grateful for to have [the bus lane] but we're still doing probably 60 percent business overall," Manso said. "But, you know, we're just trying to hang in there and just make the best of the situation."

While painting for the bus lane has been finished and is drying, many customers left the block due to the smell left behind, according to Devigne.

Photo courtesy of Charles Devigne

A spokesperson for the Department of Transporation did not immediately return a FOX Business request for comment.

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The move by the city comes as restaurants have already been struggling over the summer to make ends meet.

Devigne noted that while August is usually a slow month for restuarants in New York City, the pandemic has made the situation even worse.

"I know the scenario this year is obviously much different, but we definitely are seeing a drop in business from the earlier month of the summer when we were operating under the same circumstances," Devigne said.

Devigne added that Pescatore has already used up its Paycheck Protection Program loan provided through the CARES Act and that it is still hanging by a thread.

"We are hanging on really by our fingernails to be able to do payroll, to pay our rent, to pay our purveyors," Devinge said. "I mean, we've held off a lot of the businesses we do purchase from and they're coming around now saying that they can't hold off any longer. They've done their best to help us accommodate, you know, what's going on. But they have their bills to pay."

"So it's just sort of a trickle-down effect," Devinge said. "And if we don't have another opportunity to have some sort of support from the state government…federal government or another PPP loan…or we don't have the inside of the restaurants open soon…I just don't think the math is simple. We don't make enough money to pay for a bill, even under the new business model that we've had to adopt."

He also said that the restaurant can't afford to cut back on payroll since it is already operating with the minimum amount of employees possible to sustain itself.

"We're already running with a with a crew of minimum people that we can afford and you know, at a certain point, you can't cut anymore and you don't want to because everybody now is expecting to make a certain amount of money in order to survive. And, you know, everybody that came off unemployment is in need of the minimum wage hours we're providing them."

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Looking ahead, Devigne worries that even the most profitable restaurants in the area will struggle to make it through the pandemic without another round of stimulus.

"I'm afraid that the way things are going right now, a lot of the viable businesses that would probably prosper in the near future and help bring the city back to where it needs to be are not going to be able to make it to that point, which is really a tragedy because these are healthy businesses," Devigne said. "They just are unlucky."

The struggles for local restaurants comes as stimulus talks remain at a stalemate, with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill unable to reach an agreement on a new round of funding. The stalemate is expected to drag on until at least September.

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