Maryland businesses brace for decrease due to coronavirus

BALTIMORE (AP) — Orto, a modern Italian bistro in Station North, is typically one of the city’s hot tickets, a haven for foodies to feast on burrata and homemade pastas. But owner Elan Kotz said he’s noticed an uptick in cancellations since the onset of COVID-19 concern.

At a time when each news alert brings fresh terror — the stock market is down, travel from Europe has been banned, even Tom Hanks is sick — Baltimore’s bar and restaurant owners are taking steps to reassure customers and protect their employees.

“It’s an unknown time,” Kotz said. “I’m definitely concerned about where this thing is headed.” Seeking to reassure customers, Kotz sent an email to guests outlining sanitizing measures restaurant staff are taking. “Every hour our staff will sanitize all surfaces, computers, doorknobs, and any items used to prepare food or cocktails,” he wrote. All staff will wash their hands every 30 minutes; hand sanitizer sits at each server station as well as the host stand.

“The precautions are what are important,” said Kotz, who’s been conferring regularly with Orto customers who are high up officials at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland.

Other businesses are taking similar measures. Hampden’s Grano Pasta Bar has asked customers to pay with a credit card instead of cash, which can more easily spread germs. Graul’s Market, the grocery store chain with six locations in Maryland, informed customers Thursday that it was temporarily discontinuing its self service food sampling in stores.

“We will continue to offer sampling served by our associates in a manner that is safe and wholesome,” according to an email the store sent out.

The store said that it was focused on cleaning, with daily attention paid to “shopping carts, hand baskets, doors and handles, checkstands, all display cases, restrooms with proper disinfectants.”

In addition, the stores will continue to offer disinfectant wipes to allow customers to sanitize carts and other surfaces.

Others are taking more drastic measures. Flying Dog brewery posted on Instagram Wednesday that it would close its Frederick taproom and cancel all events at the facility indefinitely. ”The safety of our employees and community is our top priority and we will share additional updates as we are able,” the Instagram post read. A spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment. A statement on the brewery’s website noted that “brewery operations are not affected at this time.”

But it’s unclear whether the steps will be enough to keep people in shops. Foot traffic at Fells Point’s Broadway Market has gone down noticeably in recent days, said stall owner Sal Ayala of Sal & Sons, which sells fresh and prepared seafood. “We are concerned,” said Ayala. “We just hope they find a cure fast.”

“The thing that worries me most is our staff,” said David Alima, co-owner of popular ice cream shop The Charmery, which has a stall coming to Federal Hill this spring and another shop scheduled to open in Columbia. He is concerned that a downturn in business will force him to cut hours for employees.

At this point, Alima said, “So much is changing on a day to day basis. We’re trying not to be overly reactionary.” His stores are making sure they have to-go pints in stock for customers who prefer to eat at home or order it through UberEats.

It’s not just food service companies that have been affected. A spokesperson for Wishbone Reserve, a trendy vintage shop on Falls Road in Hampden, wrote in an Instagram post that they had experienced a “drastic downturn of foot traffic in Baltimore city” in recent days. “We have bills to pay, children and animals to feed, mortgages and lives to to live. Your support keeps us afloat.”

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