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One of the first people to closely document Philadelphia’s restaurant scene online has created a new website to keep track of COVID-induced shutdowns.
ClosedinPHL is a project from Foobooz founder Art Etchells. It displays a map of recent restaurant closings, with details about each one. You can sort closings by month, click on a marker to find out if the closure is intended to be permanent or temporary, and keep tabs on a spot’s current status.
You can also read a snippet of the owner or proprietor’s farewell, and find a link to their entire message. Being able to surface these notes and bring them all into one place is what convinced Etchells the site was worth launching.
“It lets you very quickly find out what restaurateurs and bar owners are thinking about and saying, in their own words,” Etchells said, “and that’s pretty powerful.”
Right now there are close to 100 restaurants included. (Click on “Closings by Month” and wait for the map to load to see them all.)
Just over half are listed as “temporary.” When Philadelphia banned indoor dining in November after the coronavirus began a resurgence, many food and drink establishments decided it wasn’t worth the effort and cost of trying to stay open through the winter. Instead, they’re mothballing operations and waiting it out until the weather warms enough for robust outdoor dining or a vaccine spurs changes in safety restrictions.
The industry is bleeding across the U.S., with more than 1 in 6 restaurants permanently closed and 2.1 million people out of work, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a group formed to press for relief.
And the Philly region is hurting worse than elsewhere.
As of August, more than 93,000 leisure and hospitality jobs had been lost in the Philadelphia metropolitan area compared to last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, including 35,500 in Philly proper. The region’s 32% drop is notably bigger than the 23% decrease recorded nationwide.
Government aid to the industry has been minimal or nonexistent since the first round of Paycheck Protection Program grants. Congress has not moved to pass the RESTAURANTS Act relief bill, despite bipartisan support.
Philadelphia recently passed a bill banning restaurant evictions in the city for 180 days, hoping to give local restaurateurs a bit of breathing room to make it through the cold season.
For Etchells, documenting the city’s closures on a map serves to illustrate how widespread the problem is, and how many people and neighborhoods are affected.
“It hits a nerve to see it all in one place visually,” he said, “It’s sad, but useful. You can check on your favorite hole in the wall and see why they’re closing.”
Etchells himself is one of those currently out of a job. After founding Foobooz and then running it at Philadelphia magazine, he was an operations manager for local distillery Manatawny Still Works, and then became marketplace manager for Historic District food hall The Bourse. He created ClosedinPHL as a labor of love while he searches for new work, he said.
He also owns the domain name OpeninPHL, and he’s looking forward to the time — hopefully a few months from now — when he can swap it in as title of the site. Though it will never be the same, he’s confident Philly’s landscape will bounce back.
“You have to be an audacious optimist if you’re in the business at all,” Etchells said. “It’s a very positive industry, in general. Opening a restaurant is an optimistic endeavor.”