Financial ache from pandemics is placing a pressure on the lives of restaurant house owners and leisure workers

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© Reuters. Sveta Restaurant is where people can dine al fresco as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread in New York City

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By Vanessa Johnston

FREDERICKSBURG, VA. (Reuters) – For Pepe Diaz, the reality has not yet materialized that the beloved deli that he ran with his brother for more than 30 years is permanently closed.

“The camaraderie with all the students and the regulars, I miss all of that,” he said to Howard Deli in Washington.

Before the pandemic, the store had been a lively hangout in the neighborhood. But sales plummeted without the pedestrian traffic of Howard University and local high school students.

Diaz’s brother Kenny Gilmore suffered multiple strokes. With bills piled up, the brothers closed the deli in January.

“That had to be the worst. Everything else we survived,” said Diaz of the pandemic.

Howard Deli is not alone.

By the end of 2020, about 17% of all US restaurants – about 110,000 – had long-term or closed permanently, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Matt Strickland is determined that his business won’t be next.

The owner of Gourmeltz in Fredericksburg, Virginia, continues to operate his restaurant despite saying his license has been revoked by health officials for failing to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

“The people who impose these mandates and regulations on us haven’t missed a paycheck. They haven’t suffered as much as we have,” said Strickland.

Strickland said he had many supporters in the community. However, according to local media, health officials have received more than 50 complaints about gourmeltz for failing to observe safety measures such as wearing masks.

The Spotsylvania County Health Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The economic pain goes far beyond gastronomy. The US economy lost 22 million jobs at the height of the pandemic and is still 10 million jobs fewer than a year ago.

Before the pandemic, Sharon Clark was a full-time jazz singer for 11 years, traveling to Russia, France and South Africa.

When concerts worth a year were canceled in early 2020, she panicked.

“For the first time in my entire eleven years, I wondered and asked God, ‘What should I do?’” Said Clark, a single mother with a teenage daughter. “Who’s going to leave the phones on … who’s going to pay the cable bill?”

Clark said she was optimistic that her singing work would resume by the summer.

“I’ll sing until I can’t anymore. But I’ll learn to do something else – just in case,” she said.

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