Erie County lawmakers suggest using CARES money to let restaurants set up wintertime outdoor dining

Sep 17, 2020

With autumn officially arriving next Tuesday, Erie County lawmakers are proposing the use of federal CARES relief money to help establishments set up outdoor dining spaces during the winter months.

Members of the Legislature on Thursday introduced a proposal to set aside up to $1 million to help restaurants acquire equipment and cover costs of labor related to setting up dining shelters outside their walls.

Restaurants such as Belsito in Buffalo were able to expand to outdoor seating during the summer months. With cooler weather approaching, Erie County lawmakers want to help restaurants set up outdoor spaces by using federal CARES money to acquire heaters and other needed equipment.
Credit WBFO file photo

"The concern right now is with our region, we have cold weather that's around the corner. It's coming really soon. And there's only so many restaurants right now that have the outdoor dining space that can be utilized with the weather," said Legislator Frank Todaro. "We’re lucky that we had a great season. But the cold weather's coming. With that, many restaurants cannot actually function without heaters, without any enhancements that are required to keep their business open, to keep the capacity at a level that they can sustain to keep their doors open."

It's unknown how many restaurants may come forward. Todaro says according to the National Restaurant Association, 90 percent of restaurants are barely meeting their financial commitments. The fear is that with cold weather looming, some restaurants that are already in a state of limbo may never reopen.

During an appearance at a tourism-related news conference in Buffalo Thursday, Osteria 166 owner Nick Pitillo spoke of the impact the pandemic has left on his establishment.

"My business is down almost 65 percent," he said. "But every morning, I get up and I fight, I fight for my family. I fight for my business. I fight for my team. Frankly, I fight alongside all of us."

County lawmakers say the ability to use CARE dollars would give many restaurants a fighting chance as they continue to comply with social distancing rules heading into cooler weather.

Todaro says the proposal is now in the hands of the Poloncarz Administration, but within the Legislature there are signs of unity in getting it passed. So, how soon before they might act?

"We just made a statement today that we want to get this conversation moving along quicker than scheduled," he replied. "So it looks like in a couple weeks here, we're going to be talking about this."