Marilyn Schlossbach says she’s on the edge of financial disaster. The popular Jersey Shore restaurateur has been dipping into her savings to keep her head above water because she’s had no real income since August.
Schlossbach owns four restaurants down the Jersey Shore, including Langosta Lounge, which sits along the ocean on Asbury Park’s boardwalk. Before the Coronavirus crippled communities in New Jersey and across the nation, diners would comfortably pack the restaurant to enjoy Schlossbach’s travel-inspired dishes and quirky bar.
But Nowadays, Schlossbach’s staff is dwindling, and as the cold winds blow across the water, diners want to eat inside instead of outside. Under
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s Covid-19 restrictions, restaurants can only serve at 25 percent capacity indoors and bar seating is not allowed.
“I am barely holding on to the restaurants,” said Schlossbach, the mother of twin 8-year-old girls. “Last week was a good week and then a 10 p.m. curfew came. It’s impossible to do business this way. We don’t even know if we’ll be open next week. They wouldn’t run a campaign day-to-day. How do they expect us to run a business day-to-day with constant changes?”
Schlossbach says Murphy’s Executive Orders have made her feel like she’s been on a roller coaster ride. Surprisingly, she admits she and her husband would be okay with a four-week lockdown in order to get the state’s rising positive Covid-19 cases under control. But Schlossbach, who’s also the chairwoman of New Jersey’s Restaurant and Hospitality Association, says businesses like hers would need more financial help in order to survive a lockdown. She says she’s angry Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t agree on another stimulus package.
The Governor says his Executive Orders are meant to save lives and during Friday’s Covid-19 briefing, he echoed Schlossbach’s angry sentiments, blasting politicians in Washington, D.C., for stalling on a new stimulus package.
“As long as Mitch McConnell (Republican U.S. Senate Majority leader) is sitting on his hands and not
getting behind a major stimulus,” Murphy said, “you shut without absolute evidence that there’s spread and transmission, you shut non-essential work places or indoor dining, you’re basically putting a bullet in them, and unless we see explicit transmission coming out of there — that’s blood on our hands in a different respect, and it’s shameful that they haven’t acted in Congress, especially McConnell and the Republican Senate — to throw a life line to small businesses.”
“I feel lost and broken and unable to be a leader because you feel every move you make gets derailed and then you’re thrown against the wall,” Schlossbach said.
Many business owners have already used up money from the first stimulus package, while others are still waiting for help. Grants have also been rolled out as part of the CARES Act, but for many, it’s just a drop in the bucket.
Robert Cho, the owner of Kimchi Smoke in Westwood, has been playing it extra safe. He decided early on to only focus on his take-out food business.
“We’re not doing indoor dining partly because we don’t want to start and have it change later,” Cho said. “I am not sure if indoor dining makes sense because I am still uncomfortable with it.”
Health officials say a second wave of the virus is hitting the state with a vengeance, creating more uncertainty.
On Thursday and Friday alone, New Jersey reported 7,935 positive Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 297,370. The Coronavirus has left 14,900 people dead in the Garden State. According to state health statistics, about 6,800 who died were patients at Long-term care facilities.
Governor Murphy, a Democrat running for a second term, has been playing a balancing act, trying to keep the public safe while attempting to prevent an economic collapse in the Garden State.
With Thanksgiving approaching, Murphy has issued an Executive Order limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, and outdoor ones to 150 people. There are exceptions, though, for religious services and celebrations, political events, weddings, funerals, memorial services, performances and Judicial and Legislative proceedings.
Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka, on the other hand, announced on a local radio show he’ll be asking residents in his city to lockdown for 10 days, starting the day before Thanksgiving because of rising Coronavirus cases. Baraka says he’ll urge residents to shelter-in-place and only go out for essential items. Earlier in the week, he instituted a mandatory 9 p.m. curfew on weekdays and a 10 p.m. weekend curfew in some neighborhoods dealing with a surge in positive Covid-19 cases.
Murphy hasn’t ruled out a full-blown lock down but some New Jersey residents have criticized him for trying to have it both ways. On Friday, as the Governor held his Covid-19 briefing, Some of his Facebook followers begged him to clamp down and shut down the state, sooner than later.
“Murphy, do your job correctly, shut it down again and supply mask(s) and Lysol to every home,” one woman wrote.
Another person, writing in caps, pleaded with Murphy, “PLEASE, NO MORE SHUTDOWNS!!!”
Peter Woolley, the director of the School of Public and Global Affairs at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, says politics always play a role, adding “People want to do well and want to be liked and be effective and be re-elected.”
But Woolley says there’s a frontier the Governor doesn’t want to cross because it could lead to non-compliance.
“I think he is trying to balance a lot of different things,” Woolley said. “Other dimensions are — to have people comply with the law — the law has to be voluntary. No rules will work. It’s a delicate act to go so far to get the measures in place you want, but not go too far so that people refuse to comply.”
We reached out to the Governor’s office for comment but have not heard back.
Fellow Democrat and State Assemblyman Roy Freiman also defends the Governor, adding, “from day
one, he’s been focusing on attacking this virus. I think the Governor is being surgical. If people are fearful of their livelihoods, then you won’t get compliance.”
Murphy has also received nasty comments on his Facebook page. On Monday, during his Coronavirus briefing, one woman appeared to threaten him.
“Murphy, you better ‘watch yourself’ your time’s up,” wrote the woman, identifying herself as an anti-vaccination “mama” and Trump supporter. “We aren’t tolerating your fake numbers and threats anymore!!!”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has faced serious threats over her tough Covid-19 mandates. In October, 14 members of a militia group were charged in connection with a plot to kidnap Whitmer.
A restaurant industry group recently took Whitmer to court to stop a three-week ban on indoor dining but the organization was denied a temporary restraining order to stop the state’s new measures.
New Jersey State Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick, who has spoken out against President Donald Trump, says Murphy’s doing the right thing by not completely shutting down non-essential businesses and indoor dining. But Bramnick says the Governor should hold virtual public hearings on his Executive Orders and is probably avoiding doing so because he may fear possible verbal confrontations could take place and end up on the evening news.
“How do you not have testimony from the public?” said Bramnick, who tried to move a bill limiting the Governor’s Executive Orders to 14 days without approval by the Legislature. “I can’t believe the Media isn’t demanding a public hearing. How can the Media sit back and allow the Governor to make a decision on whether your children can go to school, whether you can travel, whether you can gather with family and whether you can operate your business without any public input whatsoever? The public has an absolute right to be heard. Historically, anything he did would have to go through committee.”
State Assemblyman Freiman says while public hearings are important they may not be helpful in a politically-charged atmosphere.
“If people stay holistic and work together, then it makes sense,” said Freiman, who’s been instrumental in pushing legislation to help struggling New Jersey businesses. “But if the forum is one that lets people attack each other then it’s not constructive.”
The Governor is also getting some criticism for having his hands tied because of a verbal agreement with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and other states in the region, which has everyone instituting similar Covid-19 rules and regulations around the same time. Everyone, though, seems to follow Cuomo’s lead.
“If we see something happening somewhere else, it happens here, and the hospitality business has felt the brunt of this,” Schlossbach said.
“The truth is, it’s one region and we’re like the little brother,” Woolley added.
For now, the Governor’s urging residents to be vigilant, especially during the next six to eight weeks. Murphy says New Jersey’s rolling out more Covid-19 tests. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli adds the state could be getting its first doses of the Coronavirus vaccine in December and would initially offer them to health care workers and those in long-term facilities.