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Expert: More than 1,800 Arizona restaurants could close amid COVID-19

Posted at 4:19 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 10:58:46-04

PHOENIX — An estimated 8% to 9% of restaurants in Arizona have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, a number that could potentially rise to upwards of 20%, according to Steve Chucri, CEO and president of the Arizona Restaurant Association.

Chucri estimated that there are 9,500 true restaurants in the state -- which does not account for cafeterias or other types of food establishments.

Using those figures, that means approximately 1,900 restaurants could ultimately close in Arizona.

"This was the final straw that broke the camel's back for many establishments that weren't doing so well, and they took this to mean that now is the time to exit the stage gracefully and maybe try a new venture or try something else," he said during a virtual town hall about the restaurant industry held Thursday and live-streamed on ABC15's Facebook page.

"Even some of the most successful restaurants in our state have had to close a restaurant at some point. We're hopeful that number doesn't creep too high, but it's an unfortunate reality that has been an outcome of COVID-19," he said.

Chucri said it would likely take until mid-summer or late fall to fully understand the impact the pandemic will have on the restaurant and hospitality industries.

You can watch the entire conversation during the ABC15 virtual town hall below:

Over the last two weeks, restaurants were given the OK to begin welcoming patrons back into their dining rooms, which were shut down in March as a precautionary measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Many have reopened, implementing a number of new safety guidelines that both stores and patrons are encouraged to follow: limiting groups to 10 people, spacing out tables and chairs, encouraging physical distancing, having servers, bussers, and kitchen staff wear masks, conducting temperature checks, and increasing the frequency of cleaning high-touch areas, such as bathrooms, doorknobs, and counters.

Some have kept their dining rooms closed, maintaining carry-out and delivery operations, while others have decided to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Thomas Barr, executive director at Local First Arizona, an organization that works to promote independent businesses in the state, said he has heard from businesses trying to understand the financial investment and costs they are going to have to face in order to reopen.

Costs such as buying more hand sanitizer for staff and customers, floor markers to show proper social distancing, plastic dividers, and then potentially deciding which employees are dedicated to cleaning and which ones are dedicated to serving.

"The very scary thing for Arizona, especially in our urban areas, is that we’re entering Arizona summer," said Barr. "The last two months would have been the time that restaurants see a surge in revenue and sales that helps them get through the summer."

Barr said there are grants and funding from the CARES Act that have been allocated to helping businesses with those investment costs.

"A lot of these small restaurants and family-owned restaurants are going to struggle getting through the summer and that's the reality we have to face. I think it's really important that we as consumers and we as people in the community think about that and try to support these businesses as much as possible."

Both the Arizona Restaurant Association and Local First Arizona have resources for local businesses listed on their websites: