Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train.
As bars and restaurants weather the toughest conditions the coronavirus has thrown at them since the beginning of the pandemic, there is hope.
It comes in the form of millions of small, glass vials filled with a coronavirus vaccine.
"I do see hopefully a light at the end of the tunnel,” said John Ingalls, owner of Palmers in Andover. “When warmer weather arrives, hopefully this will be over.”
Danielle Berdahn, owner of Yella Grille in Andover and Gloucester, agrees.
“It’s good the vaccine is becoming available,” she said. “That’s really something to look forward to. We are hoping this spring and summer will bring business back to normal.”
In the meantime, however, the situation is dire.
As infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise across the state and the nation, more and more people are staying home and out of bars and restaurants for fear of catching the disease.
The state has imposed severe measures limiting opening hours and the number of patrons per table, as well as requiring masks for customers unless they are actually taking a bite of food or a sip of a drink. Many bars and restaurants have had to lay off workers, or, as in the case of Palmers and several other area eateries, shut down for the winter — something they refer to as “hibernation.”
One estimate is that 110,000 restaurants in the United States have been shut down permanently since the start of the pandemic in March and many more are on the brink of collapse.
“Our business is significantly depleted,” Berdahn said, noting that the holidays are usually a profitable time for her restaurant because of family outings and company parties.
“None of those are happening,” she said, noting that the holiday season also brings shoppers to downtown.
Not this year.
“People are doing a lot more online shopping,” she said. “We usually see more foot traffic. ... And losing catering of parties is really tough. This is a very, very hard time to make it.”
While Yella is staying open in Andover, Berdahn said she put her Gloucester location into hibernation.
Ingalls said he closed Palmers on Dec. 1.
“We shut the restaurant down and when things get better we will reopen in the spring,” he said, adding that the hardest part was laying off staff, many of whom have worked at Palmers for years.
“They understand,” he said. “They saw the writing on the wall.”
As the pandemic raged, Ingalls pared his staff down from 35 to just nine employees. Now everyone is out on unemployment.
The important thing, restaurant owners say, is to be adaptable.
Berdahn said that in the case of Yella, it means “constantly making adjustments, doing online ordering and delivery. We are doing family meals starting next week. We changed our menu to have more comfort food — hardy winter dishes that travel well.”
Congress, meanwhile, hasn’t offered much help. Several restaurant owners are lobbying for a bill that would allocate $120 billion in grants to the industry.
Without that kind of help, more than a third of the restaurants still open could face closure, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
“We are trying to do everything we can,” Berdahn said. “I’m hopeful for the future. I hope everybody will come out and support us. We are lucky, in the past people have done that. We have been part of so many memories over the years. People are reaching out in kindness and saying how much Yella means to them. It really helps us.”