COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been nine months of struggling for South Carolina’s hospitality industry.
More than 100 restaurants have already closed their doors, most recently Carolina Ale House in Columbia’s Vista.
As 2020 comes to a close, experts predict even more bad news.
“There are more restaurants here in Columbia that will close before the end of the year, I guarantee you that,” Bobby Williams, Chair of the Restaurant and Lodging Association, said.
Williams is frustrated and believes the only way for some of these restaurants to survive is for Congress to pass another relief bill soon.
“It’s political football, and we are losing,” he explained. “Everybody that got the PPP money -- well we spent it the right way, and we burned through it so fast that it’s almost an ancient memory now.”
Noma by Al Amir Bistro on Main Street in Columbia is one of the many businesses struggling.
“We have to keep praying to God almighty that this pandemic moves on, and we can go back to our old days,” said owner Mohammad Saadeddin.
He’s been serving up Mediterranean dishes in the city for 20 years and says business is down 75 percent.
“It’s been very rough,” he said.
Despite financial struggles, he’s kept his employees on.
“I’m not going to let anybody go,” he explained. “They are like a family to us and we have to bite the bullet and keep everybody working.”
Saadeddin says he’s willing to do anything, including getting another job, to keep the restaurant’s doors open.
Many South Carolina businesses rely on the holidays to make the bulk of their yearly revenue.
“A lot of restaurants wait until this time of year with New Year’s Eve and Christmas week and Christmas parties,” said Williams. “This is really the best time of the year for them.”
But with canceled travel plans and holiday parties, this year is expected to be the toughest yet.
“We need to get enough money into the economy so that these small businesses can survive,” Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall said.
The hospitality industry’s struggles also impact some of the city’s nonprofits and other groups they support.
The Columbia hospitality tax was expected to bring in $7 million this year to help fund organizations like Historic Columbia and the Columbia Museum of Art. Now, they anticipate bringing in $3 million or less.
“We need to get the hospitality tax healthy again, and the way to do that is to support these local merchants to keep your money circulating in the hospitality industry,” said Duvall. “That tax will go back to help other organizations keep their doors open and give us the cultural amenities that we enjoy in the city of Columbia.”
One way local leaders encourage people to help local businesses if they don’t feel safe dining in-person is to purchase gift cards to shops as Christmas presents.
The National Restaurant Association warns 10,000 U.S. restaurants could permanently close in the next three weeks. That’s on top of 110,000 that have already closed in 2020 amid the pandemic.