Local businesses trying to make the most of new normal

Local businesses trying to make the most of new normal

Paul Penta, of Pauly Penta’s in North Providence, is hustling to do whatever he can to keep his business afloat, including curbside pickup service. Here he’s packaged up spaghetti and meatballs, two zeppoles, and a loaf of bread. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Brisk sales of zeppoles for St. Joseph’s Day helped the bottom line at Pauly Penta’s Gourmet Italian Deli and Catering last week, but owner Paul Penta told The North Providence Breeze that business was still down by about a third as he and his staff continued to contend with the impacts of the new coronavirus.

Still, those numbers are “pretty good” when one considers what they’ve been dealing with, said Penta, with more people staying home and no one allowed to sit down in the restaurant.

Pauly Penta’s, like other businesses, saw all of their catering gigs canceled amid the spread of the virus and subsequent measures by the state to respond. Penta said he cut down on help and spread out hours, and staff have been very good about dealing with the situation. He said he also reached out to a number of vendors to cancel contracts.

After initially seeing slow progress in curbside pickups for those customers looking to limit potential exposure to others, Penta said he and his staff saw that effort gain some traction by mid-week last week.

Staff at Captain’s Catch were among those reporting brisk business even over the weekend and Sunday afternoon, while others, such as those at Tumblesalts Café, were forced to close their doors temporarily after trying to make a go of it with revised takeout menus.

Business owners repeatedly countered rumors that Gov. Gina Raimondo was planning to order residents to shelter in place in their homes, saying such a move would be a disaster. As of press time, Raimondo remained reluctant to make such a drastic move.

Mayor Charles Lombardi said he’s spent much of the past few days meeting with business owners. It's not easy for small business owners to survive events such as this, he said.

“It’s a matter of survival,” said Lombardi.

Lombardi said he and other mayors were on a conference call with Raimondo last Friday when he told the governor he thinks it’s unfair that certain businesses, such as barbershops, salons, or entertainment-based businesses, are now being told to close when grocery stores are not complying with social distancing restrictions.

“How are you going to survive?” he asked of the smaller stores. “A number of small businesses are not going to be able to make it through this.”

He said he’s not in favor of closing grocery stores, but the owners really need to do something about controlling the crowds, perhaps even allowing only a certain number of people in at a time.

“Maybe someone needs to be outside, you let 10 people in, 10 come out, he said. “What’s fair for the small businesses should pertain to the large businesses as well.”

He added, “We need to get cooperation, but across the board.”

It's not fair to have a nail salon with five people or barbershop with three people closed down while the grocery market up the street has 40 people in it, said the mayor.

He said he made a similar comment when it was brought up on the conference call that town halls should close. He said there may have been 10 to 15 people in Town Hall all day last Friday, and when people came in they were asked to dial a phone to call the office they needed for someone to come out and help them.

“We’re doing what we can to help the people and address their needs, but also abiding by that 10 or less person ruling,” he said.

Lombardi said his own business, Luxury Cleaners, is down by about 55 percent in revenue over the past couple of weeks, and has had to move forward with layoffs as a result.

Luxury Cleaners is 73 years old, he said, so it will end up being fine, but “no one’s going to be making any money now.” He said he’s doing his best to stay open as long as he can to keep paying full-time employees.

“I’ve heard the same thing from other small businesspeople,” he said.

Lombardi said he’s reached out to numerous business owners to try to calm their fears and tell them that the town is here to help them with whatever possible. To that end, a tax sale previously scheduled for the end of this month has been postponed, he said.