Colder weather could cost Philly metro area more than 57,000 jobs, new report says

Winnie Clowry wraps Thanksgiving to-go meals at her restaurant, Winnie's Manayunk.

Winnie Clowry wraps Thanksgiving to-go meals at her restaurant, Winnie's Manayunk. (Courtesy of Winnie Clowry)

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Without more financial aid for businesses, the Philadelphia metropolitan area could see more than 50,000 retail and hospitality jobs disappear and hundreds of establishments close by the end of the winter, a new report says.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data crunched by the payroll company Gusto, the Philadelphia metro area — which includes parts of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland — regained 115,000 jobs from April through September. About half of those were due to expanded outdoor dining and other warm weather-driven consumption.

Luke Pardue, an economist at Gusto, said cold weather alone could cause businesses to shed about 57,000 of those jobs in the coming months. Factor in Philadelphia’s recently announced ban on indoor dining, and that number could double — erasing the gains made since the pandemic began.

“One out of five workers within the Philadelphia metro area works within retail or hospitality,” Pardue said. “So this fear of winter and rising cases is particularly acute in Philadelphia.”

Pardue estimated that more than 800 businesses could close this winter in the metro area.

Last spring, when businesses were facing the first pandemic-driven shutdowns, they were buoyed by a number of state and federal financial assistance programs.

Eight months later, almost all of those programs have dried up, and Congress is deadlocked over if and how to pass a new round of federal stimulus.

Pennsylvania does have $1.3  billion of federal coronavirus relief funding yet to spend. But this week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a budget that uses the money to prop up the state’s financial situation, rather than fund pandemic aid programs.

The Gusto report recommends that the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provided businesses with forgivable loans this spring and summer, be immediately renewed, and that federal or local officials offer grants to businesses to purchase winterizing equipment such as heat lamps and tents.

“Without additional aid, these job losses will materialize very quickly,” Pardue said. “[Businesses] don’t have any more money to make adjustments, they spent it in the spring and the summer.”

Layoffs have already begun at Winnie’s Manayunk, a longtime Philadelphia staple.

In a normal year, the day before Thanksgiving is a busy one for the restaurant — packed with family members and old friends reuniting over a pre-holiday meal or drinks.

But with indoor dining closed and outdoor seating restricted by Philadelphia officials to try to curb the pandemic, Winnie’s was quiet Wednesday morning. Instead of chatting with customers, founder Winnie Clowry was wrapping to-go trays of cornbread, turkey and sweet potato mash — a last-minute pivot to try and salvage some holiday revenue.

“As the health commissioner is saying, ‘Don’t travel,’ there are all these people who live in Manayunk who are by themselves. Someone called from Hoboken and said, ‘Can you send my daughter Thanksgiving?’” Clowry said.

Even with the to-go meals, Clowry is struggling. Her utility bills are stacking up. She’s behind on rent.

Last week, she laid off 10 employees — cutting the restaurant staff to half of what it was before the pandemic.

She expects to lay off 15 of her remaining 30 employees next week, in a bid to survive until spring.

“I already know I have to write off December and January and, I don’t know, February,” she said. “But it’s not like ‘poor Winnie,’ or whatever. Everybody is in the same boat.”

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