It’s well known that the restaurant industry has been about as hard hit by the pandemic as any. The challenges of operating an eating establishment safely in a time of social distancing and reduced commercial activity are significant and, sadly, have already proved insurmountable for some.
The challenges are particularly acute during the current period before outdoor dining can resume and, hopefully (though likely further down the road), the COVID-19 vaccines will have been sufficiently rolled out to enable more normal indoor service. And locally owned establishments have additional vulnerability without the scale of a regional or national chain to backstop them.
In this region, the difficulties facing locally owned restaurants also have ramifications for the area economy. A study conducted by Civics Economics in 2014 reported that the locally owned retailers surveyed recirculated over 60 percent of their revenue in the Monadnock Region through jobs, charitable giving and other means. Clearly propping up locally owned restaurants during this difficult period is in everyone’s interest.
Thus, a local initiative designed to stimulate additional spending at a group of local eateries is a welcome one indeed. Announced last week, the Monadnock Restaurant Project plans to purchase up to $10,000 in gift cards from 28 locally owned establishments. In addition to this immediate infusion of cash, the project will be distributing the cards to community members, which the organizers estimate will at least double the financial impact when the cards are redeemed. To speed the impact, cards will be distributed at least at certain larger local employers, including Moore Nanotechnology Systems, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Savings Bank of Walpole and Cheshire Medical Center. (For disclosure purposes, The Sentinel will also aid in the gift card distribution through an upcoming contest for readers.)
And the organizers — The Local Crowd Monadnock, Culinary Journeys and Food Connects — are not stopping there. TLC Monadnock program manager Jen Risley said the organizers also plan to launch a second-phase, crowdfunding campaign for the project.
Given the importance of restaurants to the economy and their contribution to local vibrancy and community, there has been important government aid available to them from federal and state stimulus programs, and the aid package passed late last month by Congress includes a separate allocation targeted to the industry. Even so, it will not diminish the need for local support of eateries to help them stay afloat and keep their staffs employed. “It could be a really rough few months for our fellow restaurateurs and if we don’t do something soon, we could lose some of the businesses on the edge,” said Luca Paris, a member of the Culinary Journeys advisory board, in last week’s announcement. (To his credit, Paris, owner of Luca’s Mediterranean Café, has stepped aside from the gift card program to benefit the less-established participants.)
Certainly, patronizing restaurants in any way possible through in-person or takeout dining or the purchase of gift cards is a sure way of offering community support. But additional efforts to boost the locally owned establishments that may be on the edge are particularly timely right now, and the organizers of the Monadnock Restaurant Project are to be applauded for jumping in to provide and stimulate needed community support. As Paris said in the news release announcing the project, “Eat, drink and build community.”
The organizers are holding a virtual conference about their plans for the project and to field questions from 12-12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 3. To learn more about the conference and to RSVP, visit https://tlcmonadnock.com/stimulus.