Polish small businesses consider lockdown dodges to survive

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Fearing the loss of their livelihoods under the continuing lockdown, some small business owners in Poland are planning to challenge COVID-19 restrictions and reopen their restaurants and tourist facilities, despite government warnings.

There are also those who resort to new ideas. In Szczecin, in the northwest, a skating rink — closed under lockdown rules —reopened as a florist’s shop, which is allowed to operate. But customers need to don skates to reach the flower display in the middle of the ice. They have to buy something, but are under no pressure to make a quick purchase.

Skeptical entrepreneurs argue that the tens of billions of zlotys (dollars) of government subventions and tax exemptions designed to help businesses survive and preserve jobs are not enough after months of closure, or don’t reach those most in need. Some are planning business as usual, starting next week.

In response, Development Minister Jaroslaw Gowin said Friday that they would be cutting themselves off this way from the equivalent of some $11 billion in latest aid and from various exemptions from charges.

But highlanders in southern Poland, who earn their living from housing and providing for skiers and tourists, and some restaurant and cafe owners in Bialystok, in the east, and elsewhere say they have no alternative.

“Yes, I am afraid of the consequences of opening my place but I am much more afraid of losing what I have been working hard to build for many years,” Marta Mezynska, owner of a cafeteria in Bialystok told local daily Kurier Poranny.

“After consulting a lawyer I have made my decision and I hope that other businesses will follow me,” said Mezynska who plans to open Jan.22 and argues the government restrictions have some legal flaws.

Under the lockdown hotels, ski lifts, fitness and entertainment centers have remained closed since Dec. 28 and restaurants can only sell take-away food. The restrictions were recently extended for another two weeks, through January.

In Nowa Huta, near Krakow, restaurant owner Karolina Bartosik, recently opened the doors to people whom she coyly labels “food testers.” She said that under on-and-off lockdowns she has been pumping some 20,000 zlotys ($5,000) each month into her business, while she received only a total of 5,000 zlotys in government aid.

The latest aid package provides some 13 billion zlotys ($3.5 billion) for up to 75,000 small and medium businesses, according to government figures.

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