Restaurants at the lake are facing an unknown future as many of them must adhere to new regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those that remain open are trying to find the best ways to continue serving customers and keep profits coming in.
As of March 24, restaurants and bars are currently not allowed to have any patrons indoors. The change has forced those businesses at the lake to go exclusively to pickup or delivery service.
Jeff Schott, owner of Hot Shots Bar & Grille near Westlake Corner, was serving a few patrons inside his restaurant late Friday afternoon. He said most Fridays at that time the bar would be packed with people preparing to watch live music.
“Now the bottom has dropped out,” Schott said.
Before new rules prevented all customers in the restaurant, Schott was forced to limit the restaurant to 10 people. Schott said business dropped 70% due to the change. As a result, he has had to temporarily furlough staff.
“Hopefully this is just a two- or three-week thing,” Schott said.
Mickey Martin, general manager and co-owner of The Copper Kettle Co., said business at his restaurant has also dropped 70 to 80% in the past week. He said the hit came just as he was looking forward to a jump in business with the return of warm weather.
“It has been tough,” Martin said.
The restaurant at LakeWatch Plantation was providing limited seating while observing the 10-person limit in place last week. Now the restaurant is exclusively doing curbside pickup, but Martin said that is not necessarily what people want.
“Most people go to restaurants for the experience,” Martin said.
The business also had to temporarily let go of its staff. Martin said he plans to bring back the ones who were let go when business picks up again, but realizes they may already have other jobs by that time.
Martin said he is fearful stiffer regulations will be put on restaurants that could hurt already limited profits even more. He said he appreciates the recent community support to help restaurants while they are struggling.
The Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce and Hager Insurance began campaigns last week to help local businesses. The campaigns ask residents to continue shopping and eating locally. Residents who don’t want to go out are encouraged to buy gift certificates to use when the pandemic is over.
“The campaign is to inspire residents and visitors to support local businesses in a variety of ways,” said Chris Finley, Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce executive director. “During this difficult time, it will truly take all of us working together.”
Participants can follow the chamber on social media and share services, products and ideas for managing the current situation with the hashtag #StrongerTogetherSML.
Phil Hager Insurance Agency launched the Facebook page We Shop Local SML. The business also “got the ball rolling” on their program by purchasing $1,000 in gift certificates and are encouraging others to make their own gift card purchases.
Gavin Hager, with the insurance agency, said the campaign is not asking anyone to spend more money than usual, just to purchase a gift card in the same amount they would spend on a meal at a restaurant on any given week and continue that for the next few weeks.
Martin said he is appreciative of the effort to bring the community together to help others.
“This is a great community,” Martin said. “I think we will all make it through if we come together.”