WRA: 30% of restaurants likely won't survive pandemic; businesses ask Evers for plan to reopen

WRA: 30% of restaurants likely won’t survive pandemic; businesses ask Evers for plan to reopen

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Gov. Tony Evers' "Safer at Home" and school closure orders are set to expire on April 24, but Evers said this week it could be at least month before he starts rolling back social distancing requirements.

But more than 50 business groups across the state are asking the governor for more clarity and a plan to restart the economy after the order ends.

"Every day we delay means more people are losing their job, more businesses won't come back and we delay the process of a recovery," said Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. "We need to start the planning process right now so that we can be up and ready on the date that the order is finally lifted."

He added that he understands the balance Evers is facing with both public health and economic concerns.

"That is, of course, of paramount concern is protecting lives, but we also have to protect livelihoods," Bauer said.

Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said the biggest frustration restaurants are facing is the uncertainty of not knowing when the state will reopen.

"Right now, our best guess is 30 percent of our restaurants are going to be closed and can't survive this," Hillmer said.

She said another 30 percent of restaurants likely will survive the pandemic, but it's the remaining percentage that she's uncertain about at this time.

"Those are the ones that the longer this goes on, the more of them will shutter their doors," she said.

The economic losses in Wisconsin are getting more extensive every day. More than 300,000 people filed for unemployment in the last month.

"Wisconsin's unemployment rate is now at 16 percent, projected to go to about 20 percent by the end of the month. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is projecting that we could get as high as 27 percent unemployment, which is beyond great depression levels," Bauer said.

Both Hillmer and Bauer said businesses will need time to plan before they can reopen. Bauer mentioned needing to recall employees, resupply, contact customers, and talk to banks and financial institutions.

"Businesses can't just flick a switch and be back up and running," he said.

Many restaurants have switched to other models of business in the interim, but Hillmer said restaurants' profit margins are probably not enough to sustain them longterm.

"Even if a restaurant is able to do curbside or delivery and so on but their dining room is closed, chances are their business is still half to 75 percent below what they normally see," she said.

Her organization wants to start a dialogue with the governor and provide ideas on ways to ease restrictions that could allow restaurants to open sooner, such as dining rooms at half capacity or providing extra spacing between tables.

She also asked whether restrictions have to be the same in every part of the state.

"We have restaurants that are members from Kenosha all the way up to Superior, and there are some counties that have no cases," Hillmer said.

CBS 58 reached out to Evers' spokesperson for comment on this story but did not get a response.

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