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When restaurants shut down, restaurant-adjacent businesses also suffer

Without restaurants, florist businesses are suffering, too
Without restaurants, florist businesses are suffering, too
Photo: Mavocado (Getty Images)
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There’s been a lot written over the past few months about restaurants that have reorganized their business models to accommodate shelter-in-place rules or that have been forced by the shitty economy to close altogether. But a lot less has been said about restaurant-adjacent businesses that exist to make sure restaurants are pleasant, well-run establishments: the florists, the beer draught cleaners, the linen providers, the grease recyclers, the valet parkers, the accountants, the PR and marketing people, and on and on and on. The restaurant business is an economy unto itself. As The Counter’s Anya Schultz notes, “Specialty accounting firms have one major advantage, which is that they have niche expertise. The disadvantage: If your niche industry crumbles, you’re out of luck.”

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The Counter talked to a wide range of restaurant-adjacent business owners about how they’ve been faring since the shutdown. The answer is pretty much what you’d expect. Like restaurant owners, they’ve seen their revenues tumble to less than half of what they were a year ago, and they’ve been forced to lay off employees and go without salaries and are scrambling to stay afloat with PPP loans.

The most fascinating part of this article, though, is its exploration of these restaurant-adjacent businesses and how they function. Although I’ve seen vans from My Beer Guy, a Chicago-based beer draught cleaning businesses featured in the story, I admit it never really occurred to me what a beer draught cleaner does. Now I know. And now we all have many more reasons to hope the restaurant business recovers soon.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

It’s been very interesting from my perch watching the Bureau of Labor Statistics try to figure out how to put together a useful report that is based on certain assumptions about the economy that have been about as informative as tracking employment in blacksmithing and leech procurement in the economy’s new reality.

An industry just kinda disappeared overnight, and what remains of that industry has nothing in common with what the BLS was trying to track employment in.

So sure, you can say things like “unemployment in King County was 7.2% in August, and this is up 4.2 percentage points from its level in August of 2019, 5.1 points from its all-time low of 2.1% in December, and was last seen that high in February of 2012", but that doesn’t tell anything resembling the whole story. Year-over-year, just the state of Washington alone has lost over 300,000 jobs in food and beverage service, personal services, and hospitality and leisure. And we’re actually doing better out here than the nation as a whole in part because we got hit hard earlier and have had more time to sort things out and try to reopen at least somewhat (and, knock on wood, COVID cases remain higher-than-they-should-be but not completely out of control.)

It is a weird time to be alive, and numbers that would normally be cause for optimism (unemployment rates that spiked to 1930s levels have come way down much faster than even rosy Panglossian predictions would’ve guessed) are instead completely worthless comfort for a fifth of the workforce.