'We need to move on:' Owner of Johnston County grill forced to close urges Gov. Cooper for expedited reopen date

JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- These are tough times for businesses everywhere, but especially hard for community destinations like the Holt Lake Gas and Grill in Johnston County.

It's known for hearty meals featuring country sausage, eggs, biscuits and seafood. The convenience store that once attracted nearly 50 sit-down diners has idle tables topped with unused chairs.

Outside where gas is still sold, customer Mark Burns is one of the people disappointed by the shutdown.

"We initially came here for the very first time, to get lunch,"said Burns. "But it wasn't open."

The reason: COVID-19 concerns that prompted executive orders from Governor Roy Cooper that restrict access to sit-down restaurants and other businesses. That means a maximum of 14 customers now for grill owner Tony Braswell.

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'It makes no sense to me that I can't put 48 people in here when Lowe's and Walmart are full of folks," he said. "We have room that we can space differently and we have taken every precaution. I think we're smart enough to know what we can do, as a businessperson. And what we can't do is continue to operate like this."

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Braswell said there's enough room inside the convenience store to abide by the six feet apart social distancing standard.

For now, he's hanging on and hoping for an opportunity to reopen the grill section soon while paying bills and staff with stimulus money.

"But we've been through that and a line of credit," said Braswell. "But we just can't do it any more. I'm sure I'm not the only one. I'm sure there's many of us out there."

Braswell is also a Johnston County commissioner who said he and others have written to Governor Cooper asking for consideration of an expedited reopen date when it's safe to do so.

'I'm not the only one. And it's time for us to move on, and open some of these businesses,"said Braswell. "Quite frankly, as an elected official I was an advocate for staying home for two months. I was very much an advocate. But now, the 17th was a long time ago. I think we need to move on."
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