Durham independent restaurants call for financial lifeline amid COVID-19

The survival of some independent restaurants can't be guaranteed as the nation grapples with COVID-19 concerns.

That's the reality for owners like Elizabeth Turnbull, whose Copa on Main Street in Durham has a loyal following of diners who enjoy Cuban cuisine.

A recent column she wrote for the Independent Weekly sounded an alarm shared by many others in the hospitality industry.

FULL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

"We're saying, we didn't have months to figure it out. We have weeks. We have eight weeks to figure out if we'll be able to stay open or not," said Turnbull. "And that's a very scary place to be for any small business owner. "

Turnbull and her husband are in a better position than restaurants with landlords threatening eviction for non payment of rent.

They serve as their own landlord, thanks to earlier arrangements made through government programs. But reduced hours and seating capacity still present challenges, and federal assistance for the payment of staff salaries can't keep them afloat for long.

Turnbull said Copa's counting on a "$5,000 matching grant program for restaurants to spend on outdoor furnishings, PPE and better ventilation for outfitting their restaurants for COVID."

But the application process in detailed and takes time that some restaurants, already strapped for cash and personnel, can barely afford to take. So they're urging their customers to contact their elected leaders and express support for swift action on the grant applications.

She says keeping those restaurants viable is important as the city continues to market itself to business investment and downtown residents.

"They don't want to come in to shuttered storefronts and chain eateries," Turnbull told ABC11. "Durham has attracted millions and millions of dollars in investments based on the reputation of its independent restaurants. So all we're asking is to be kept alive so we can help continue that reputation."

Have a question about coronavirus? Send it to us here.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.