Small biz week comes with a call for relief from Philly’s COVID regulations

The owners of small businesses are hoping the city will not go back to the masking regulations that cut their sales — especially for establishments selling food.

Business members and officials gather outside New Olympia House Restaurant to celebrate small biz week.

Business members and officials gather outside New Olympia House Restaurant to celebrate small biz week. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY News)

Small business owners in Philadelphia say they are struggling to survive with the changing COVID-19 regulation landscape as a week in their honor is celebrated in the city.

The New Olympia House Restaurant near Castor and Cottman avenues in Northeast Philadelphia has been struggling throughout the pandemic while dealing with changing COVID regulations, including asking for vaccine cards and requiring masks at all times except when patrons are eating.

Restaurant co-owner Lambros Karazournias said they did offer dining outside, but that’s no longer permitted for them with the new regulations. He is happy for the funding and grants he has received, but the restrictions — especially the masking requirements — have impacted his business.

“We had a lot of restrictions, which we shouldn’t have had. And, you know, it affected our customers. They did not want to show vaccine cards. They did not want to put their mask on. And you cannot blame them, you know?,” Karazournias said. “Fortunately, we have loyal and great customers that understood. And they would come and still come today. So, we’re very lucky.”

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Anitria Odum runs 4 Every Occasion Cakes and Cupcakes bakery that is geared towards special events. She admits it’s been very difficult during the pandemic dealing with the city’s restrictions.

“People didn’t want to come in because it was mandatory that they wear their mask, so they were getting mad at us. But it was the city law that they do this,” Odum said. She added that customer loyalty kept her business afloat, and hopes the masking is behind everyone.

Odum hopes there is “light at the end of the tunnel,” now that the city has eased masking regulations for a second time. She is hopeful for more city and state funding to help them survive through the end of the pandemic.

Councilmember Cherelle Parker met with the business owners as part of the city’s celebration of Small Business Week. She urged people to help out small businesses in their neighborhoods.

“I don’t care if we are talking about a diner, a hair salon, a bakery, a hardware store, or a convenience store, these small business owners are key to job growth in our city. They are the lifeblood that keeps our commercial corridors alive,” Parker said.

Councilmember Cherelle Parker spoke at a celebration of Small Business Wee in Northeast Philly on May 2, 2022.
Councilmember Cherelle Parker spoke at a celebration of Small Business Wee in Northeast Philly on May 2, 2022. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY News)

Varsovia Fernandez is executive director of the Pennsylvania CDFI network, a coalition of 17 Pa.-based community development financial institutions that primarily provide financing options for small businesses. She said restaurants are having trouble staying in business with the changing regulations.

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“In part, wearing a mask on and off is an issue, and the fact they were closed for so long,” Fernandez said. She added it’s especially difficult for restaurants since they have to judge how much food to bring in every day, much of which is perishable and can’t be used after the business day ends.

Iola Harper, senior executive director at The Enterprise Center in Philadelphia, brought her organization’s mobile office to the event. The Biz on Wheels travels directly into neighborhoods to help businesses get the help they need, because for a small business owner, applying for a loan or grant could mean shutting down for a day.

“The mobile unit offers everything from marketing help, operations help. We can even administer loans right on the vehicle,” Harper said. “We make it more convenient and easier to help businesses that are in hard-to-reach areas or that are solo entrepreneurs.”

One thought unified all the businesses as well as city leaders: people need to patronize the small business corridors because if they don’t, they will lose the businesses and the jobs that come with them.

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