By Arleigh Rodgers
From my experience and research, it is clear the Finger Lakes Region depends on its close-knit nature. From farmers markets to locally-sourced-only restaurants to sprawling independent wineries on wine trails, the region hosts a bounty of individual options for tourists or for those who call the region home.
But over the past few weeks things have take an unfortunate and uncontrollable turn. With the increasingly prevalent and dangerous nature of the coronavirus, restaurants everywhere, not just in the Finger Lakes, have been forced to close. Cider houses, wineries, and breweries have closed their tasting rooms; eateries have become takeout only. Even in my hometown in the Hudson Valley region and, understandable, larger cities like New York City are shutting down the in-person aspects of restaurants.
These steps are necessary to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, which would result in fewer infected people and a less overwhelmed healthcare system. But the effects are instantaneous: Service industry workers will lose their jobs, and local restaurants will feel the loss of revenue from fewer orders.
As the world continues to practice social distancing — in which people avoid larger crowds or their workplaces to remain at home — customers will also lose the experience of a night out with friends or family. This practice is, again, necessary to stem the growth of COVID-19. But this is what Finger Lakes region restaurants have lost or will lose over the next few weeks: the community.
It is imperative that we choose the sides of these restaurants, especially if they are family-, women- or immigrant-owned. Without them, the region loses the flavor and color it is known for. As customers, we can make steps to combat this unavoidable issue and continue to support our most frequented local restaurants.
In the same way we can buy merchandise from small music artists, we can continue to put our dollar toward the restaurants or cafes in your town. You can also take advantage of, and get creative with, these restaurants’ delivery options — ordering directly from the restaurant and not through a delivery service like Grubhub. For some, a delivery person traveling to to drop off food at your house may not be a safe decision for you or your family members. We can avoid this conflict by going to the restaurant itself and asking for curbside delivery.
However, overall it’s better to chose a different route. In general it’s better to avoid contact with others unless necessary, and your morning coffee and pastry can be substituted for a homemade breakfast. Instead, buy a gift card for yourself — a future celebration you can finally cheers to with your friends and a glass of local wine. Use the money you would have spent on a dish at your neighborhood bistro and make it readily available to that restaurant through the gift card purchase. Some restaurants have been using this money to pay their staff while closed, something that many other businesses could continue if national relief doesn’t arrive for restaurant workers soon.
Adam Erace wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer about his #Five4Fifty campaign, a pledge to spend $5 per day at a local business, restaurant or otherwise, for the next 50 days. That donation can be less, but this is perhaps the most palatable of our options. This allows us to continue our social distancing, to continue flattening the curve, as this $5 purchase can be made from the comfort of our couches. These dollars add up, and they rocket even higher when we tell our friends and family about it: “Don’t have the spare money at all?” Erace asks. “Telling a friend or family member is free.”
Finger Lakes locals, visitors, and participants, let’s promote positivity and support through these unprecedented and exceedingly unpredictable times. We’re in this together — and our community is part of that too.