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2020 sent small businesses in Rhode Island into a spiral

Some businesses had to close during 2020, a year which proved to be a tough year for most businesses. (WJAR)
Some businesses had to close during 2020, a year which proved to be a tough year for most businesses. (WJAR)
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2020 sent several small businesses into a spiral, either forced into a temporary closure or closing their doors for good.

"We can't run a business when we're losing money constantly,” Harrison Elkhay told NBC 10 in September when one of his Providence restaurants, Luxe Burger Bar, closed down.

Long-time favorite Venus de Milo just over the state line in Swansea shut down after decades in business.

"How do you foresee something like that?" the owner said of the pandemic.

Small restaurant birch in Providence shut its doors in September as well.

“I’d rather have my staff safe and secure and healthy than to make a dollar,” owner Ben Sukle told NBC 10.

Birch, Luxe Burger Bar, and Venus de Milo were among other well-known names like Bravo Bistro, Blackies, and Eleven Forty Nine that all made the list of closures.

Day by day this year, more restaurants moved to takeout only, taking a break, or completely calling it quits; many felt unheard.

"If they don't give some more grants to restaurants and the industry, we're going to see a tremendous amount more close,” Elkhay said.

In the fall, we reported that 17 restaurants publicly announced permanent closures. More of the same or similar announcements since then.

"Right now I have a list of about 90 restaurants that are in hibernation, of that I don't know an exact number that are closed permanently, and I don't think they know,” President of the RI Hospitality Association Dale Venturini told NBC 10. "It's been painful."

The latest numbers from August show nearly a 40 percent drop in revenue from Rhode Island restaurants and hotels, a loss of millions of dollars.

Venturini says this year forced businesses to go digital, contactless, and local. It’s something she thinks we'll see more of in the new year.

Meanwhile, businesses that would normally be preparing for a big New Year’s Eve are left with nothing to do.

"It feels terrible, it really does," Michael Mota said.

Each year, Mota hosts thousands of people for an annual party at Skyline at Waterplace.

"During the holiday season when we were preparing a few months ago, we thought New Year’s Eve would be maybe the one that we could do something,” Mota said.

But, that's not the case. A mandate for bars and restaurants to close by 10 p.m. is still in effect, and Mota actually fears that could contribute to more cases.

"Instead of being in a safe environment where they're behind plexiglass and being served, and we all know restaurants are doing a really nice job doing that,” Mota said. “Now, we're forcing people to go home and have parties at home and that's going to cause more."

The state, though, is encouraging people to celebrate in their own households, and virtually, to remain vigilant.

But besides the health risk, Mota says economically, the loss of New Year’s Eve is crippling.

"We have people who come and do the fireworks, we have people who come and do the food trucks, the liquor distributors, the food distributors, we can go on and on and on, and everyone is going to suffer,” Mota said.

Skyline brings in between $80,000 and $120,000 each New Year’s Eve; money that won't be seen this year there, and beyond.

"We're really interested to look at the comparison year over year on top of it all,” Venturini said.

The hospitality association looks at sales tax revenue from restaurants and hotels each year.

"In 2019, that number was over $292 million,” Venturini said. “So we're anxious to see the downturn."

But there’s hope for new opportunities in the new year.

"We're looking forward to the new year,” Venturini said. “We want to restore consumer confidence, and we need to dream new dreams.”

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