OSWEGO — Larry Lombardo has owned and run Bridie Manor for 33 years. Over those years, he and his restaurant have seen the best of times and the worst of times. These times of coronavirus may well be at one end of that spectrum, possibly rivaled only by the financial meltdown of 2008.
“As you know, we all got closed down on March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, which is one of the biggest days of the year,” Lombardo said. “And St. Patrick’s Day usually signals the beginning of the end of the winter. People start coming out after St. Patrick’s Day. January, February, March are just terrible, terrible months, but after March 16, everybody starts coming out again. The only trouble is, we lost March, we lost April, we lost May. We’ve lost half of June. March, April, and May, the college has a lot of parties. The college kids have going away parties, they have graduation parties, the college has event parties. You know, our expertise is parties. Now all of a sudden, we can’t serve parties anymore, can’t serve people, can’t serve anything, can’t do anything. So, we lost three of the best months of the year. Now, we get to open up in June, and we’ve got June, July, and August which are the three slowest months of the year. And here we are, we’ve cut down half the help. They’ve gone on unemployment. I can’t hire back a full-time staff the way business is. It isn’t back to normal yet. We just opened up a week-and-a-half ago, and there’s nobody out.
“We did take-out, but it’s hit and miss. It’s like telling a doctor, you can’t practice medicine anymore, you’ve got to become a dentist now. We weren’t doing many take-outs. All of a sudden we’re trying to survive on take-outs? We had to hustle to get a take-out menu. We tried that, but now, we’ve got no money coming in, so now we can’t do much advertising ‘cause we don’t have the money. I’ve got a marquee out there, and that’s what I depend on for my advertising.
“We did some business. The big day was Friday, sometimes Saturday. But other than that, Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, maybe a little hit on Thursdays, but it was nothing to speak of. I’m probably speaking for just about everybody else too. We’re all in the same boat. It’s like we’re all on the Titanic, we’re in the bow standing up, and we’re ready to go down. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Just a little while ago, Texas closed all the bars and restaurants again. What’s going to happen if they do that here? Who’s going to pay the taxes? They don’t care who’s going to pay right now. I understand. Health is everything. Safety is everything. But, if the government’s giving everybody all this kind of money, what are they doing for the business owner? A payroll protection plan? How can you have a payroll when you’ve got no business when you’re closed? They close a bar, he can’t open up, how can he pay people to do nothing? What are you going to do? Remodel? What if you can’t reopen? What if you go broke? It’s a terrible situation.”
I asked if Phase 4 of reopening makes things any better for him. “I think we were fully covered under Phase 3,” he said. “I just follow the guidelines of the Health Department I call the Health Department ‘Can we do this, can we do that? What can we do, what can’t we do?’
“Now you can have gatherings of up to 50 people. Great. What about the weddings for 100 people? I know there’s places have weddings booked for 100 people, 150 people, and they’re still going to go ahead with those weddings. That’s what you hear through the grapevine. Because we can’t operate on no money. Who’s going to pay the school taxes? Who’s going to pay the county taxes? The city taxes? Are they going to give us relief for a year? What about the liquor license? What about the heat and the lights? What about the air conditioning? Who’s going to pay that with no money coming in? There’s got to be relief someplace.
“If you take a business, and you take away 90, 95% of that business’s income, how can you be okay? You can’t be okay. I’m paying for everything out of my pocket. I’m on Social Security paying the heat, paying the lights, paying all the credit card bills and any small bills I have to pay out of my own personal money.
“I’ve heard of a couple bars that aren’t going to reopen,” Lombardo continued. “You’ve got a Mom and Pop bar, a little corner bar. The rules and regulations are so splotchy, nobody knows what they can do and what they can’t do. Can a bar sell food? Can a bar reopen? I don’t know if bars are supposed to be open or bars are supposed to be closed. Who knows?
“A lot of places did very well (under the recent restrictions). I know a couple places in Syracuse that had so much business during this whole thing. But it’s an unfair playing ground. We had to rewrite the menu. We had to start all over again. Hamburgers. That’s what we did. Hamburgers, chicken wings, pizza, fish sandwiches. Our big day was Friday, especially during Lent. Fish sandwich, fish dinner on Friday. We missed Mother’s Day and Easter Sunday, our biggest day of the year.”
People have to wear masks when they come into Bridie Manor. “The waitress wears a mask,” Lombardo said. “The bartender wears a mask. Our dining room capacity is 150. So, we can seat 75. So, that’s okay, but we don’t have 75 people at any time now. The bar capacity is 60. So, we’re okay with 30. We’ve got a porch. The capacity is 40. So, we’ve got 20. We have an outside deck. The capacity is 20. So, we’re at 10. We have picnic tables on the Linear Park overlooking the river. There’s six people per table. That’s 24 more. That’s totally outside. So, we’ve got more than enough seating, but we don’t have more than enough customers.
“People are leery. They’re very leery about these things. I could have a good-size party, but what can you serve? You can’t serve a buffet. Everybody can’t handle the same spoon. You can’t have the same fork. As far as cross contamination of food, I don’t know what the rules are. The only kind of party we could probably have at this point is just a plated dinner, a sit-down dinner. We were going to have a breakfast buffet, but, you can’t do it. You can’t do a buffet.”
I asked if it was even worth operating at 50% capacity? “Well, 50% of a dollar is still 50 cents,” Lombardo said. “And if you have to pay your taxes, and you have to pay your bills, 50 cents is better than nothing.”
What about having to pay for more help? “That’s where the owners have to pitch in and work a lot more themselves,” he said. “But, I’m fortunate. I’m not paying rent. I have no debt. What about the people that have a lot of debt? What about the people that are paying rent? What about the people paying high insurances? How are they getting by?”
Bridie Manor used to serve a very nice lunch. Lombardo now opens at 3 p.m. There’s no more lunch.
“We open at three, but I still get here at seven ‘cause I do all the maintenance work myself,” he said.
And he’s down to four employees.
Lombardo had plans to hire more bands this year, but now sees that as useless when you can’t social distance and are limited to how many people you can allow in at a time.
“I see things getting a little bit better, not a lot, but, you know, an extra person a day, an extra person a day. It doesn’t add up to a lot, but, you know, by the weekend it’s 10 people or 20 people. Maybe it’ll increase. Maybe that’s the new norm. We’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Lombardo’s somewhat optimistic, but at heart, he’s a very realistic person. Looking back on the recent restaurant shutdown restrictions, he said, “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it happened again.”
With the recent surge in coronavirus cases across the country, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently mentioned that exact possibility.
Lombardo takes it all in quite philosophically. As he said, “Time will be the teller of all.”