Lebanon’s Downtown Lounge one of many county businesses feeling pinch

5 min read1,655 views and 746 shares Posted April 3, 2020

Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally.

The coronavirus has impacted our everyday lives in ways we couldn’t ever have imagined. But in no way has it adversely affected them more than financially.

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Jobs have been lost. Paychecks have been curtailed. And savings have been depleted.

COVID-19 has impacted almost every single business in Lebanon County, in one way or another. The Downtown Lounge just happens to be one of those businesses.

A longtime waitress and cook at the Downtown Lounge, Nanette Wright purchased the bar and restaurant a couple years ago from the Riley family. (Jeff Falk)
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“It’s frustrating,” said Nanette Wright, who’s owned the Downtown Lounge for two years. “I find it to be a little scary. It’s the unknown. I know everything is going to be OK. I feel like it is. I don’t feel any doom and gloom. You’ve got to feel that way, because if you don’t, it’s not going to happen. It’s just a short period of time in our lives. I’m going to try my hardest, but I don’t want anyone to get sick because of me.

“I feel for all the businesses,” continued Wright. “Everyody’s got to reach out and try to save them all. I just hope all the restaurants are following the rules and staying safe. We just don’t know yet.”

Located at 734 Cumberland Street in Lebanon, in the heart of the city’s business district, the Downtown Lounge is recognized as perhaps the county’s premiere spot for viewing television sports. The bar/restaurant offers alcoholic and other drinks, as well as a full menu of appetizers, sandwiches and dinners.

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Following Governor Tom Wolf’s guidelines for social distancing, ‘The Lounge’ closed to in-house dining on March 17. Like many local businesses, the Downtown Lounge remains open for take-outs, Monday through Saturday during the dinner hours.

“It’s OK. It’s survivable for the next few months,” said Wright. “It’s not easy. There’s only so much you can do with that amount of time (4 p.m.- 8 p.m.). I have the same costs, but without alcohol it’s rough. I’m hoping we all stick together and do this right. I see it both ways.

“I’m glad people are still supporting me and supporting other businesses,” added Wright. “The best way they can support us right now is, if they’re sick, to stay home. The only way we can survive (financially) is if people are healthy. What good is it to have a business if there’s no one to go there? Hopefully, we’ll never see this again.”

The Downtown Lounge has adapted to the new “take-out” economy and is serving regular customers from 4 p.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. each day. (Jeff Falk)

Before severely curtailing its operations, the DTL employed a staff of about ten – cooks, waitresses and bartenders. The sports bar has been forced to cut back on some employees’ hours, while laying others off.

Wright said it is her intention to bring all of the employees back when circumstances allow it.

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“I’m fortunate, because a lot of my servers have other jobs,” said Wright. “Right now, I have two coming in to help me out. We’re running with a very thin staff because we have to. We’re still grasping this whole to-go thing. We’re learning. I’m hoping everyone comes back. The biggest struggle for any business is finding good employees.

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“I think we’re going to do what we’ve been doing for now, but there could come a time when you might shut down,” Wright added. “We have to do what’s best for us. That is a consideration. To me, it looks like everyone is doing a good job. I don’t see anyone breaking any rules. I think that’s why we’re doing so well with the numbers (of Coronavirus cases in Lebanon County).”

After working as a waitress and cook there for more than 32 years, Wright purchased the Downtown Lounge in March of 2018. Not unlike most business ventures, it was done with a leap of faith and elements of risk/reward.

Wright was well aware of what it would take to run the business. But nothing could’ve prepared her for what she is working through now.

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“I’m glad I didn’t know about this then,” said Wright. “Every human being is suffering through this. I guess if I had known then, I wouldn’t have taken it. It was a flip of the coin to begin with. It’s (coronavirus) a world-changing event, one we could’ve never imagined. We’ll get through it and we’ll be stronger for it.

“There is a selfish positive for me,” Wright continued. “I get to go to work every day. I just try to do little things. I’m working on a new menu. I think of specials. I’m finding I’m doing things I never had the time to do before.”

Before the onset of the pandemic, Wright was pleased with the business that the Downtown Lounge had been generating.

“It was absolutely wonderful. It was good,” said Wright. “But it was hard. The restaurant business never gets easy. Anybody will tell you that. There are always hurdles. But there’s big gratification. Your work is your life and your customers become your family.

“(Former owners) the Rileys made it easy for me,” continued Wright. “They kind of had my back. I was very fortunate. I didn’t have a lot of money (at the start), but I knew what worked and what didn’t. I like to cook and I like to please people.”

The key to Wright’s success with the Downtown Lounge prior to social distancing was keeping a positive attitude and not looking too far into the future. They are elements which have been tested by the current economic state of things.

“My regular customers are the best,” said Wright. “I have people who still come in every day to eat. I can’t expect a lot of people. People can’t go out to eat when they’ve lost their jobs. I know it’s a struggle, but they are rallying.

“In the big scheme of things, it’s been just over two weeks since we’ve closed,” Wright added. “I want to open again, but I don’t want to do it at the sake of lives. We’ll see. We’re day-to-day.”

The harsh reality of it is that some local businesses won’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability to adapt might hold the key to navigating what some believe will be the new normal.

“I would love it if in the middle of May the virus would be on the downswing,” said Wright. “I just pray every day. I’m hoping that in the middle of May things will start getting back to normal.

“Anybody can be an entrepreneur if it’s something they’ve done and they’re good at,” concluded Wright. “Not everybody can be an entrepreneur, but anyone can be an entrepreneur if they have a passion for what they do. It’s (restaurant work) the only thing I’ve ever done. I do know what people like and I know how to draw a crowd. I like to listen to my customers and find out what they like.”

This too shall pass.


Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.

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