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Colder temperatures create yet another daunting challenge for some restaurant owners

Governor Wolf could sign House Bill 2513 into law and loosen restrictions on restaurants. However, it's not expected. It has been called 'the best hope' for owners.

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Many restaurant owners hope Governor Wolf puts his seal on legislation that would loosen restrictions for them.

House Bill 2513 would allow all restaurants to increase indoor capacity to 50% with or without self-certifying with the state, bring back bar seating, and allow customers to buy a drink without purchasing a meal. 

For now, its fate remains up in the air.

Supporters of the bill say it would help restaurants pave a way forward as dipping temperatures create yet another daunting challenge for Pennsylvania's second largest industry.

"We know Mother Nature is going to roll around and bring the cold weather," warned Jack Burwick, operations manager at Avenue Ale House and Pizza Loft in York Township, York County.

With capacity limited to just 25% over much of the summer, many places relied heavily on outdoor seating. Burwick says it's not as easy to find people who want to sit outside when temperatures dip below 60. Add to that, Avenue Ale House and Pizza has portable heaters, but they can only do so much.

Burwick recalls when the restaurant could seat people outside, and customers could have a laugh and a cocktail or two - no meal required.

"There was a lot of people who would come here, socialize for an hour or two, really," said Burwick.

Burwick says the place's atmosphere really changed back in July. An order by Wolf's Administration limited capacity and banned bar seating. The restaurant bought dividers for the bar, but he says they could only use the safety mechanism for a week or so. 

If House Bill 2513 is approved by the governor, Burwick says it would allow for at least 20 more customers inside, which could bring the restaurant more revenue. It's Burwick's belief that customers seated at bars tend to spend more money than those at traditional tables.

"The impact on overall revenue is much greater so we're really missing that," said Burwick.

"It's the best hope for restaurants," said John Longstreet, President and CEO of the Restaurant and Lodging Association. 

Longstreet says some restaurant owners hope the bill will become law solely so they can increase capacity without self-certifying with the state. He has said some owners worried self-certifying would lead to increased surveillance by the state.

RELATED: More than 26,000 places to eat and drink in PA but only 4,500 have self-certified; here's why some say they won't

"What's even more complicating now is we're hearing people can't get heaters because there is such a demand for the heaters. They're having trouble locating them so we're working to try to source heaters." 

Burwick is not surprised to hear others cannot find heaters; his restaurant has had some difficulty locating hand sanitizer for its sanitizing stations. 

"Supplies are a real shot in the dark, really. Either they're there, and you're lucky to find them at that time. The next week, they could be totally gone," explained Burwick.

Burwick says fortunately for Avenue Ale House and Pizza Loft, it has managed to ride the wave without losing a profit. He says the upstairs dining room will soon be open, and it's offering a new comfort food menu to get people through the long months ahead.

"Can't give them a hug, so we'll put some [comfort] food in their belly," he laughed.

The Governor has said he will veto House Bill 2513. His office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

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