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Buffalo restaurateurs vocal in support of delaying sales tax payment

Buffalo-area restaurants and bars closed their dining areas and taprooms Monday night due to a state mandate as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and restaurateurs' cries for financial help to remain in business grew louder.

Spurred by the New York State Restaurant Association and several other trade organizations in the state, financial measures ranging from delayed sales tax payments to no-interest loans have been stressed to New York State Governor Andrew C. Cuomo's office as manageable ways to sustain businesses, at least for a short period of time.

The urge for sales tax payment delay, suggested by the NYSRA to be three months in length (March 20 to June 20), has been echoed by two outspoken Buffalo restaurateurs.

Steven Gedra, owner of the Black Sheep, emphasized how valuable it would be for Buffalo restaurants to have the funds that would otherwise be paid to the state.

"Very few have a vast resource pool to draw from," Gedra said. "We still have our fixed costs to pay (rent/mortgage, heat, electric, etc). It would give us some time to implement a strong strategy moving forward in the event that this goes on for a while.

"For example — I was busy last week, so I’m paying my employees this week their wages due from last week when it was busy. But there’s not going to be anything really coming in."

Lisa Riniolo, co-owner of the Garage Cafe & Lounge at 1127 Hertel Ave., has also been vocal about how extending the sales tax deadline could "keep her business floating."

"We aren’t asking to keep [the sales tax money]," Riniolo said, "just hold onto it for a little while. It doesn't take much to put a small business out of business ... and this could give us the help we need to hang on during this crisis."

Restaurants pay 8.75% sales tax in total, with 4% going to New York State and 4.75% to Erie County.

A sales tax payment delay was just one of many points made by the NYSRA in a letter sent March 12 to Gov. Cuomo's office from NYSRA president and CEO Melissa Fleischut, which has thus far not been met with a response. She prefaced the letter by highlighting the bleak future of local restaurants, which has deteriorated dramatically in the five days since the letter was sent.

"It is no secret that the brick-and-mortar small businesses across the state are suffering and struggling to find ways to make ends meet," she wrote. "Restaurants are facing a seemingly inevitable downturn as government gathering restrictions drive self-isolation."

Other key requests in the letter were "making available no-interest loans to those who have seen a dramatic decrease in business" and an encouragement for landlords to forgive late rent from small businesses. Measures to halt evictions indefinitely were put into place Monday night for New York, Curbed reported.

James Gazzale, assistant public information officer for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, could not be reached by phone Monday.

More areas of state assistance, said Fleischut, who works out of the New York State Restaurant Association's Albany office, could involve removing penalties for late business and property taxes, extending the terms of payments to alcohol distributors and encouraging third-party delivery services to reduce their fees (which has happened already in Grubhub's case).

For hospitality employees, Fleischut was encouraged by the Department of Labor's waiving of the seven-day wait period to collect unemployment due to losing jobs from the coronavirus pandemic. The News' Matt Glynn has more details on filing for unemployment.

"I hope that's some relief for employees who do get laid off," Fleischut said. "I don't know if that's enough for these [restaurant] folks, though."

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