Some bars & restaurants close from pandemic hardships, others hold hope as WNY braces for renewed restrictions

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NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) – The bars and restaurants that barely got by during the spring shutdown are now bracing for round two. 

Some have already closed. Then, on Friday, new New York statewide restrictions will force establishments to close by 10:00 p.m. The new rule is being imposed as part of the effort to get control of coronavirus cases, which are surging again. 

The ongoing impact of the pandemic since June was finally too much for Brownie’s Sports Bar and Tavern in North Tonawanda. 

Owner Steve Brown, who opened the Oliver Street establishment in June 2019, says he put his life savings into it. 

With a heavy heart, on Monday, he took to Facebook to share the emotional announcement. 

“I’ve got to close my doors,” he says in the video, fighting tears. “The worst part about it is I had to text all my employees, 20 plus people.” 

That video, and a follow up video in which he and his wife say they hope to reopen at some point, has been met with hundreds of Western New Yorkers sending them messages of support. 

He’s had his ups and downs before, and his life story has to do with why the tavern’s slogan is “Everything’s gonna be alright,” like the Kenny Chesney song. 

Now, he’s calling on politicians to save all the businesses like his own. He believes they’re the ones who can easily fix the problem all small businesses in America are facing. 

“The second stimulus package was passed in May in the House. It’s been in the Senate since May. My message to everybody is call your Congressman, call your Congresswoman, get them back into session. Let’s stop playing politics for one day and do what’s right for the American people. We’re drowning, we’re closing,” Brown said, adding he feels it’s important that people keep in mind that federal lawmakers can help; they just haven’t. 

Brownie’s is one of three North Tonawanda restaurants to close in one week. 

Crazy Jake’s shut its doors over the weekend, citing pandemic hardships, and Sawyer Creek announced a proactive temporary closure, noting that both New York’s business guidelines and the surging cases here played into the decision. News 4 could not reach either business owner for comment on Thursday. 

“Eighty percent of our country is made up of small business. If we all fall, there’s not going to be much left,” Brown said. 

In North Buffalo, KO Bar & Grill owner Kevin Osinski is trying to stay positive. 

“I can see that vaccines are coming and that, you know, I try to look forward that by March things will at least get under control, and we’ll be moving back toward…people will feel safe coming out,” Osinski said. 

KO opened four years ago, replacing Gordon’s, and Osinksi says its success was growing until March. Still, he feels he’ll be able to stay open. He worries mostly for his employees. 

As for the new restrictions, he says having to close at 10 p.m. is an inconvenience. 

“I’m more concerned for the inflexibility, for example, on Thursday night football; guys that have to go home in the middle of the game,” Osinski said. 

While KO will keep its doors open, it’s an uncertain future for many other establishments, especially those also having to pay commercial rent. 

Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.

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