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Restaurants fear restrictions, on top of seasonal struggles, could force permanent closures

Posted at 7:20 AM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 07:20:04-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla – There’s a harsh reality our small business owners are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even as we navigate through phase one of Florida's plan to reopen.

"I don't know if we'll make it through this, I really cannot answer that question," said Lisa Dence, owner of the Olde Fish House Marina on Matlacha.

Surviving Southwest Florida's few months of off-season used to be their biggest fear. Now that fear is multiplied by the uncertainty that comes along with the COVID-19 pandemic and Florida's plan to reopen.

“This has been my life for nine years. My husband and I have everything invested in this, we could lose everything in the matter of a few months,” she said.

Losing everything is a real and terrifying possibility Dence fears each day the COVID-19 pandemic continues. She and her husband have put everything into the the Olde Fish House Marina. At just over a 100-seat capacity, the restaurant can currently serve about 25 people at a time under Florida's phase one plan to reopen.

It's a start, but with no timeline for when restaurants may be able to move into phase two, Dence worries it's not enough to keep her small business afloat. Especially when you factor in the seasonal struggles it already faces.

“Functioning at 25%, it's hard to make $15,000 per month bills. Let alone when we're at 100% in August and September, now you throw in six months of that, it just doesn't seem possible,” she said.

The pandemic forced Dence to lose out on what's typically the restaurant's best month, and what carries them through the off-season. They've been shut down since March, even for takeout. Dence explained that her husband already had existing health concerns that made this the only option. And despite help the restaurant has received through the Small Business Administration, Dence explained that only takes her so far.

“That helped me pay a partial of one month's worth of bills, a partial. What is going to be out there to help us get through?” she asked.

Right now, the SBA is only accepting agricultural business applications due to limited funds available and the unprecedented number of applications received.

Lee County commissioners are holding an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, where they'll discuss Coronavirus Relief Fund allocation. So we'll have to wait and see what help could be on the way to small businesses like this.

The meeting is set for 9:30 a.m.

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