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Omicron Slams into American Businesses: 'We've taken a big nose dive'

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New York State reported record-setting highs of new coronavirus infections over the weekend and officials around the country are bracing for another grim pandemic winter. In New York City, some Broadway shows have been canceled, offices have shut down and people are scrambling to change their holiday plans.

"We've taken a big nose dive the last two weeks," Koteen said. "It's painful."

Customers are calling to cancel reservations and parties left and right, she said. Around 10 of her staff of 70 have tested positive for the virus, leaving the restaurant scrambling to fill their shifts.

Over the weekend, Koteen considered closing Lido down for January. Now, she's thinking "we'll limp along" for the winter.

"Everyone that works for me is my responsibility. I want them to have a paycheck, but I don't want them to get sick," she said. "This is going to be a really rough patch for us."

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For many businesses in the service sector, the holidays are the most important stretch of the year.

In the retail industry, stores often rack up the majority of their sales during the holiday shopping season as customers splurge on gifts and big-ticket items. Restaurants rely on big holiday dinners to help get them through the leaner winter months.

"The holidays are our Black Friday," said Sean Kennedy, the executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association, an industry group.

Ninety thousand restaurants — approximately 14% of all US restaurants— have permanently shut down during the pandemic, according to the group.

Many restaurants were already struggling with a labor shortage and a sharp rise in wholesale prices, Kennedy said. Now, customer confidence is dropping as Covid-19 cases surge.

Fewer customers have visited restaurants in recent weeks than in November. For the week ending on December 20, restaurant seatings were down 11% compared to the same stretch in 2019, according to data from OpenTable.

"We are definitely picking up more cancellations, softer demand at a national basis at a time when revenue is critical," Kennedy said. "This is truly the perfect storm for a low-margin business like restaurants."

For Nicole Panettieri, owner of The Brass Owl, a boutique clothing, accessories and gift shop in Astoria, Queens, staying in stock on goods was her biggest concern heading into the holidays. Now, it's the Covid-19 surge.

The week before Christmas is some of the "busiest days of the year." But she canceled an event at the store set for Tuesday because she didn't want to draw too big a crowd.

The mood among shoppers has shifted, she said, and she's anticipating a dropoff in sales as people stay home. This may force her to pull back on staff and merchandise in 2022.

"Usually this a very joyful time to shop, and it's feeling very somber," she said.


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