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The North Country Chamber of Commerce is calling for urgent attention to the future of the region's restaurants following a survey showing looming issues.

"As we move into fall, we have taken the pulse of our area restaurants and there are real reasons for concern" states Garry Douglas, Chamber President. "74% started or expanded outdoor dining which clearly helped many through the summer, but this will now fade quickly with cold weather. And the reality is that, even with the relief valve of outdoor seating to supplement the 50% restriction on inside seating, 56% indicate they have been hanging on but are not profitable. When the outdoor business disappears, they face devastation with a 50% seating limit."

Only 29% believe they can remain viable at 50% inside occupancy without outdoor seating.  22% believe they need 75% to be viable while 48% need a return to full inside capacity to remain viable.

The Chamber found that federal and other loans have also been especially important to sustaining North Country restaurants, with 64% having used the PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) program with its forgivable loans, 32% having used the SBA EIDL  loan program, and 38% having used other borrowing. Many used two or all three of these.

"Federal programs such as PPP definitely have helped a great many North Country businesses survive through the summer," notes Douglas. "Especially restaurants and other hospitality businesses. But with the summer and outdoor service fading, and with capacity limitations remaining in place indoors, it is essential that Congress and the President enact a second round of PPP as soon as possible." According to the Chamber, 64% of area restaurants identify the ability to access a second round of the PPP program as "Extremely Important" to their continuation, while another 16% say it is moderately important.

"Without a return to higher inside capacity, which is not likely soon, we need two things to happen," asserts Douglas. "We need Washington to allow these businesses a second round of PPP access, and we need continued strong support of our restaurants by everyone locally. 84% of area restaurants say they have noted and appreciate increased local support to help them. This will now become even more important through at least the end of the year."

With guidance from area restaurants, the Chamber is developing a renewed "Support Local" campaign as well as new tools it can use to support and promote North Country restaurants, including a dedicated website and social media program. It will also develop future informational and support programs for restaurants, building on the Chamber's actively used safety and advisory webinars which have served more than 5,500 business participants since March.