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Proposed COVID-19 Surcharge Could Be A Lifeline For Struggling Palo Alto Restaurants

PALO ALTO (KPIX) - Restaurants in Palo Alto struggling to keep their doors open during the coronavirus pandemic could be getting a lifeline.

Megan Kawkab's Palo Alto restaurant and bar, The Patio, went from serving up to 209 customers a day to 26, "if they're lucky."

"If we don't do something, we're going to lose a lot of restaurants and retailers," said Kawkab.

Now, help may be on the way.

On Monday, Mayor Adrian Fine proposed an idea for business owners to include a "COVID Surcharge" to customers' purchases.

"Maybe it's five percent, maybe it's 10 percent," Mayor Fine said. "So it's for things like hygiene, cleanliness supplies, increased cost of labor."

City council members also voted to extend the Summer Streets program, which would continue to shut down California and University avenues to cars for outdoor dining until at least the end of the year.

The Patio is lucky enough to have a patio and parking lot to turn to for outdoor dining. But because it isn't on California or University avenues, Kawkab isn't able to utilize the street for more seating.

"We're down a lot," Kawkab said. "Any little bit of extra money would help all of these restaurants keep floating."

Michael Ekwall, the owner of La Bodeguita Del Medio on California Avenue, had to lay off 39 of his 41 employees at the beginning of the pandemic. He said a COVID-19 surcharge would be OK as long as customers knew exactly where the money was going.

"I just wouldn't want to confuse guests," Ekwall said. "We were already talking about.a surcharge; interested to hear the city to bring it up."

But Erin Card, a bartender and server for The Patio, said that her concern would be whether the surcharge would mean fewer tips. It's a concern also shared by Ekwall and Kawkab.

"Sometimes we have people draw a line through the tip line, which hurts," Card said.

Kawkab said she doesn't want to upset her customers, but if something isn't done, many business owners don't know how long they can survive.

"Utilities are very high, rents are very high, none of those things are coming down," said Kawkab. "Any little bit that could help to keep business moving."

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