Increased capacity not much help for downtown Wilkes-Barre restaurants

i Apr 6th 2021

By Denise Allabaugh, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

WILKES-BARRE — Restaurant capacity in Pennsylvania increased to 75% Sunday but the change didn’t make much difference for Mark Bronsburg, who owns Mimmo’s Pizza & Restaurant on Public Square.

Bronsburg said he has lost business with hundreds of downtown office employees still working from home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“I need the workers back,” he said. “There’s not many people walking around downtown. On Saturdays, you could sit here and count the people who walk by on your hand.”

Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Companies will allow employees to return part-time to the office beginning April 19 but that decision is optional, said GUARD spokesperson Elizabeth Hartman.

With the exception of essential staff, employees can choose a two-day per week in the office work schedule, she said.

“We will continue to follow state and federal safety recommendations including frequent cleaning of commonly touched areas and temperature screening upon entry to the building,” Hartman said. “From a logistics standpoint, employees will remain socially distant and masks are required.”

It’s unlikely that Highmark employees in downtown Wilkes-Barre will return to the office before July, said Highmark spokesperson Anthony Matrisciano.

As downtown office employees continue to work remotely, Bronsburg said it continues to hurt his business.

At the beginning of the pandemic last March, he said his business dropped nearly 80%. Business is still down about 45% but he hopes the Fine Arts Fiesta planned in May and the Farmers Market in June will help.

Around lunchtime on Monday, signs remained on closed tables that Bronsburg didn’t remove yet to adjust for the increased occupancy. The restaurant could seat about 150 people but he said not many people have been dining indoors at his restaurant.

Customers came in to pick up takeout Monday but only one customer, Wilkes-Barre resident Nick Andrews, dined indoors around lunchtime.

Andrews said he is glad capacity at restaurants has increased to 75% but he worries the capacity limits could change again amid another surge in COVID-19 cases.

“If they put another ban on once again, it’s just going to get more people unemployed again,” Andrews said. “They’re opening everything back up at 75% but as cases are going back up, it just seems they’re going to start closing things again.”

Lafe Isaacson, owner of Abide Coffeehouse on West Market Street, also said increasing occupancy to 75% won’t affect his business because it can hold more than 130 people at full capacity in its big space.

Customers sat inside Abide Coffeehouse at socially distanced tables enjoying their drinks on Monday. Even though Isaacson was busy serving customers, his business was only operating at about 15% capacity with fewer than 20 people inside.

“We really want to get back to 100% so we could have live music again,” Isaacson said. “For anything to change, we’ve got to get back to 100%.”

Customers at Abide Coffeehouse included Swoyersville couple Eric and Sarah Novroski, who said they come there for Monday dates called “Mondates” and they enjoyed lattes called the Thin Mint and London Fog.

They said they have been following COVID-19 guidelines but they feel safe going out and social interaction is important to them.

“I think everybody just wants to go back to normalcy,” Sarah Novroski said. “The best thing is people finally being able to come together again.”