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Business owners already yearning for spring during pandemic winter

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Kombucha web
Kyle Crossett serves two customers at Wild Culture Kombucha

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - Cold weather leads to less foot traffic in downtown areas in any normal year. In a year with a deadly virus circulating, it's much worse.

The National Restaurant Association says 400,000 restaurant jobs were lost across the country in just the month of December. The Iowa Restaurant Association says 41% of business owners can't make it another six months without more state or federal aid.

Kyle Crossett at Wild Culture Kombucha in Iowa City calls the situation "daunting".

"We went into it with a lot of optimism and I think that's kind of how you have to go into all of this," Crossett said.

Bars and restaurants in Iowa have to comply with four state guidelines to stay open during the public health crisis:

  1. They have to put six feet of distance between each party or have physical barriers blocking them.
  2. There can be no groups larger than eight people unless all members live together.
  3. Customers must wear facemasks when they enter, or get up from their table for any reason. Masks can be removed once seated.
  4. They must do "reasonable" safety measures to ensure social distancing and also do increased hygiene practices.

While these restrictions are partially to blame for businesses struggling, there are other factors as well. Many people have less money to spend freely during the pandemic and others feel unsafe leaving their homes.

The family restaurant Country Junction in Dyersville closed its doors permanently on January 1. The restaurant had been open since 1990.

Mama's Deli had been open 10.5 years in downtown Iowa City and shut its doors in December.

"When I was in school, I used to go to Mama's Deli a lot. So, it's kind of unfortunate to hear," Crossett said.

He feels he's been bailed out by some innovation from a local nonprofit. The Iowa City Downtown District organized a street closure on North Linn Street (in front of his kombucha bar) over the summer and fall. They also moved in several picnic benches, getting people to flock safely to the area.

"They're going above and beyond to help us out," Crossett said.

ICDD has also been running a delivery program to get people gifts from small businesses right to their doors.

With news of more vaccines being administered every day, Crossett says he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. He describes the restaurant industry as a family and doesn't want to lose any more members.

"We're all trying to get through this together."

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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