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Virus-weary NYC restaurants face a new enemy: Snow

Northeast braces for major snowstorm
Northeast braces for major snowstorm 06:28

New York City restaurants, thousands of which have permanently shuttered because of the coronavirus, are now feeling the chill from a massive winter storm expected to blanket much of the Northeast with snow starting Wednesday.

Under new winter weather guidance issued by the city's Department of Sanitation, local restaurants must shut down their outdoor dining operations starting Wednesday. Ailing restaurant owners have depended on outdoor seating, including in streets New York City had closed to traffic to support local businesses, as well as takeout to drive businesses. Compounding the challenge, eateries in the city were also forced to halt indoor dining on Monday as the coronavirus infection rate continues to climb.

The DSNY on Monday issued a "snow alert" for Wednesday, when eight or more inches of snow are expected to start accumulating. New York City could see up to a foot of snow and wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. Outdoor dining operations must cease by 2 p.m. The city will notify restaurants when they are permitted to reopen for roadway dining.

"A snow alert means we expect heavy snowfall and outdoor dining has to pause for safety reasons. It means big plows are coming down the street pushing snow and it wouldn't be safe to be serving people food in roadway," said DSNY spokesperson Joshua Goodman. 

"If a big pile of snow is being removed by a plow, you may want to think about whether you can pull things together, bring movable chairs and heaters inside to make it easier for us to get the road clear," he added. 

Cuomo announces NYC must close indoor dining 05:42

Local restaurateurs criticized the renewed ban on indoor dining this week. Ed McFarland, owner of Ed's Lobster Bar in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood, said he's "really disappointed" about the shutdown because he doesn't think operating at a limited capacity has contributed to the spike in local coronavirus cases. 

"We had indoor dining for three months and barely had anybody inside," he said. 

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Ed McFarland of Ed's Lobster Bar in Manhattan, said outdoor dining is unlikely to sustain his restaurant throughout the long, cold winter months. Courtesy of Ed McFarland

Philippe Massoud, owner of Ilili restaurant in New York City, said the outdoor seating area he spent roughly $20,000 constructing is already defunct.

With no indoor dining either, Massoud has had to let 50% of his staff go. "I'm completely shut down because I can't build an enclosure that makes people comfortable and complies with the CDC," he said. "We'll only be operating for catering and takeout, because nobody is going to sit outside."

These and other restaurants across the country are hanging on for dear life, having endured multiple rounds of restrictions as well as costly starts and stops related to the coronavirus.

The National Restaurant Association last week released survey data showing that more than 100,000 of restaurants nationwide have closed permanently throughout the course of the pandemic.

McFarland said he may remain closed later this week when the snow hits. "Most people in winter time want to eat in a warm environment and relax. They don't want to sit outside in a winter coat, scarf and gloves on. It's almost not worth the time and effort for one day of slow revenue," he said.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance said with both indoor and outdoor dining closed, restaurant owners and workers desperately need more federal aid as well as cash grants and refunds from the city on permit and licensing fees.

Heavy snow is expected in northern Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania on Wednesday afternoon and to reach Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City by early to mid-afternoon. The heaviest snowfall is predicted to occur overnight Wednesday, with estimates of 2 inches per hour accumulating in some spots from New York City to Boston.

The last time a single storm brought more than a foot of snow to New York City was in January 2016, when Central Park saw a record 27.5 inches.

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