DERRY — Making sure the state's small businesses continue to get support from the federal government was a key issue on Friday morning as U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., paid a visit to one local restaurant to hear more about how COVID-19 has affected the business.
Shaheen met with T-Bones' co-owners Tom Boucher and Bill Greiner to hear more about how the federal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, has given the restaurant the lifeline needed to continue to operate through the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant proprietors also co-own Copper Door and Cactus Jack's businesses.
The visit also highlighted Shaheen's support to provide more relief to the Granite State's small businesses hit hard economically.
The Derry visit followed the senator's successful effort on the Senate floor to extend the PPP deadline until Aug. 8.
Gathered at an outdoor table at the restaurant on Crystal Avenue, Shaheen heard about how this local restaurant has kept its business going during the past several months of COVID-19 challenges.
That includes following all safety guidelines put down by the state for allowing 50% indoor capacity and a popular outdoor seating area as well.
T-Bones already had offered a small, garden-style outdoor area during warm months before the virus hit, but then installed a large tent in the front parking lot to accommodate its patrons for outdoor and safely distanced seating.
Once the weather turns cooler, that option will go away.
"We are very concerned when it gets colder," Boucher said, adding the additional outdoor dining space has helped increase the restaurant's sales up about 40%.
"And people are just not that comfortable inside," Boucher added.
Greiner said once COVID-19 hit, the restaurant did suffer by losing indoor dining sales, but kept up with a robust take-out business. He said it was an added expense to install the outdoor tent area for dining in the parking lot.
"We know we are making the sacrifices needed, but we will (eventually) lose our outdoor dining capacity" Greiner said.
The PPP funding has been a lifeline for small businesses in New Hampshire, with more than $2.5 billion in assistance disbursed to more than 24,000 businesses across the state.
But, many businesses receiving the support are still struggling. Shaheen has called for the passage of the Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program (P4) Act, legislation she introduced, that would allow small businesses to access a second round of PPP loans.
The senator said the stalemate in Washington, D.C., over the next round of potential COVID-19 relief funding could be solved, but there are several sticking points between the Republicans and Democrats.
It's all about continuing to support more testing and contact tracing, support for the state's communities and businesses, and making sure families know schools will be safe if and when they reopen their doors.
Greiner said right now T-Bones is doing OK, but he said he continues to be worried over the fact that people were still worried, and also about what might be coming north if the virus takes another surge in the Granite State.
"We are in a bubble right now and things are OK," he said. "But if the numbers are changing we might be back to where we were in April."
Shaheen said she feels New Hampshire's residents are working hard to do the right things when it comes to being safe.
"I think people in the state have been very responsive with social distancing, masks," she said. "That's made a difference."
Earlier in the day, Shaheen met in Merrimack with community leaders and activists to discuss the senator's efforts to combat contamination in drinking water.
Her bipartisan bill, the Physician Education for PFAS Health Impacts Act, would promote the creation of educational courses for physicians regarding the health impacts of PFAS chemicals and would establish a grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services to fund the creation of training and education courses and materials for physicians on the health effects of PFAS and best practices for caring for patients who have been exposed to PFAS.