Dave Rotunda is frustrated.
Rotunda, a local restaurant owner, aired his grievances with Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent order to close restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania for two weeks in a Facebook video that quickly went viral.
It was viewed and shared thousands of times.
“Why don’t you come up with a real plan?” Rotunda asked the governor in his video, which was filmed on his phone in the parking lot of his Annville establishment.
“I’m not a happy man,” he said.
Rotunda owns the Rotunda Brew Pub, with locations at 814 E. Chocolate Ave., Hershey, and 245 W Main St, Annville.
Most of his 70 employees have been idled by the governor’s order to close restaurants and other places where people might gather.
The order allows restaurants to stay open for delivery and takeout service, but that’s not helping much. Rotunda said in his video.
“It’s completely empty. The phone’s not ringing,” he said. “How am I supposed to pay my employees? How am I supposed to pay your sales tax?”
He also complained that big-box stores, such as Walmart and Target, are set up for deliveries but were instead allowed to stay open.
“This is hurting,” Rotunda said. “This goes longer than two weeks, I lose everything I’ve worked for.”
Contacted at his restaurant on Friday afternoon, Rotunda said he was surprised by the response his video has received.
Since posting it on March 18, the video has been viewed more than 20,000 times and shared more than 600 times.
“I just feel that, in the unexpected situation we all are in, it resonates with people,” Rotunda said Friday. “I did that video to speak out about how I felt … and I know everybody has different comments and took it in different ways.”
Some people have accused him of being “an angry maniac,” he said, while others agree with everything he said. Some people have sworn to support his business, while others vowed never to set foot in his restaurants again, he said.
“We’re all in this boat, and we’re all going to have to work together to get through this,” he said. “This is about the frustration you feel as a business owner. You feel responsible for your employees. … I’ll do whatever I can to keep my business open, not just for me but to keep my employees.”
Rotunda said he filmed the video after walking around the Annville area near his restaurant, which “is completely empty.”
“I was feeling the weight of the world on me,” he said. “I feel like I’m losing everything I worked for.”
He didn’t expect it to go viral, he said.
Since the closure, Rotunda said, he has kept the Annville location open and, at the end of the week, he reopened the Hershey site for takeout as well.
“We started selling a lot of to-go beer — after the video. And some food along with it,” he said. “I’m trying to keep morale up and get some business. To keep some of my people employed.”
State Rep. Frank Ryan, representing the 101st District in parts of Lebanon County, said he gets where Rotunda is coming from.
“The frustration is definitely understandable,” he said Friday. “I’ve introduced a series of bills because of the way this whole thing went down. There should have been greater coordination and work with the business community and the executive branch before this edict went out.”
Ryan, on his Facebook page, told followers that the governor’s office “gave us no advance warning that he was doing this other than a cryptic email 30 minutes before he did it that he was going to do something.” He later said he was “concerned about the process by which some of these decisions were made” on the statewide shutdown.
In an email Friday, Ryan said the COVID-19 virus “is serious and it’s critical but that does not mean we ignore the realities of the impact of those decisions on people, small businesses, and our economy.”
Ryan said he is working on legislation “to help mitigate some of the pain that he (Rotunda) is feeling.”
State Rep. Russ Diamond, serving the 102nd District in Lebanon County, shared Rotunda’s video publicly on his personal Facebook page, noting that Rotunda is a “long-time friend” who built his business from scratch.
The video received varied comments from Diamond’s followers.
“This is sad but there is no perfect solution,” Sherri Haldeman wrote. “Our leaders are doing the best they can to keep everyone healthy. This virus is not something that can be controlled easily and many people not just restaurants are feeling the pain.”
Haldeman said anyone with a better solution should run for office.
“Rather lose your business then your life,” wrote Cindy Fertig. “What are you all not getting, people are dying you or one of your family members could be one of them. Get a grip this will pass and hopefully you will still be around to enjoy it.”
A woman identified only as Becky Lynne, who said she is one of Rotunda’s employees, said Rotunda “isn’t just scared for himself … he is worried for all of us!”
She needs her income to support five children, she said, noting that Rotunda’s video “has reached more people in a few hours than are infected with this virus across the country.”
Contacted Friday, Diamond said he shared it “because it represented just one of now several hundred frustrated business owners I’ve engaged with over the Governor’s communications and policies over the last week.
“They agree that the pandemic is real and we need to take steps to defend against it, but they are utterly stymied by the methodology and messaging the Governor’s team is offering,” he said in an email. “As a long-time business owner myself, it’s obvious that the Wolf Administration is not consulting with enough people in the real world before it rolls out its policies on such ridiculously short notice. Rather, it’s clear that the Governor’s team is more accustomed to the strategies of running a political campaign.
“During this crisis, Pennsylvania needs a leadership style that instills confidence and calm, not shock and panic.”
Karen Groh, president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the opinions expressed in Rotunda’s video have “been felt by thousands of small businesses in Pennsylvania in a variety of ways.
“There is a fear and frustration that comes along with not being able to make decisions about your own businesses,” she said Friday. “However, these decisions are not being made because of any one political party or to try and sabotage the future of businesses, but based on information analyzed and disseminated by professionals who are trying to provide the safest outcome for all of our citizens.”
Rotunda, Groh said, “is justified in his feelings as are all employers and small business owners who feel an obligation to take care of those relying on employment to provide support for their families. This obligation is felt by all businesses at this time, not just restaurants. This shutdown is not specific to Pennsylvania or the restaurant industry. It is international.”
That’s why, she said, “swift action is needed to shorten the impact of COVID-19, thereby allowing for a quicker turnaround to business as usual.”
Two days after airing the video, Rotunda said he isn’t sure the decision to close businesses was wrong — but he wishes business owners had been given more notice it was coming.
“Honestly, I think with everything going on … we should lock everybody down. But give fair warning first, let everybody get what they need,” he said.
“Everybody feels like they’re in limbo,” he added. “I’m a business owner for 16 years, I can’t do anything without a plan.”
He said he’s heard that the government might open avenues for loans to help small business owners get through the crisis … but Rotunda said more debt isn’t going to help in the long run.
“Loans — that doesn’t sound like the best idea ever,” he said. “This has already set me back however many thousands of dollars. Should I take out more loans?”
As for getting through this period of social distancing, which is encouraging people to stay home as much as possible, Rotunda said his advice is simple.
“Enjoy your friends and family. Keep in touch with them as much as you can,” he said. “Be kind to others, and let’s try to get through this as best we can. Pull together.”
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