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How Michigan bars, restaurants are trying to survive a coronavirus winter

Outdoor seating is on its way out as temperatures drop

DETROIT – Autumn is here and that means -- among other things -- winter is coming.

Many businesses are struggling because of the coronavirus epidemic -- and restaurants and bars have been hit especially hard.

One bright spot for the industry has been outdoor dining, but with winter around the corner, restaurant owners are wondering how long they can keep going.

At Italia Mia Restaurant & Pizzeria in New Milford, Connecticut, outdoor dining has been a lifeline, but there’s a reality to life in places like New England and Michigan: Temperatures will plunge.

Outdoor heaters are helping stretch the season into fall, but it’s not a permanent solution.

“You can’t survive without them right now," said Rocco Dileo. "The winter is going to be tough.”

An estimated 100,000 restaurants have closed and not all of them will reopen.

“Every day, I’m getting a phone call from a restaurant operator who is making a business decision as to whether they can keep their doors open,” said Sean Kennedy, with the National Restaurant Association.

As the White House and Congress negotiate another potential relief bill, Kenned said the crisis in his industry is about to get worse.

“A lot of restaurants have used outdoor dining or expanded outdoor dining as a small lifeline to allow them to keep their doors open,” Kennedy said. “That’s not going to be an option in just a few more weeks and -- for a lot of restaurants -- that revenue is absolutely critical to staying keeping their doors open.”

In cold weather, restaurants are forced to get creative. From igloos in Boston to huts in Chicago to bubbles in New York.

sound Alain Chevreux - Cafe Du Soliel 1:03

“With those bubbles, the weather inside is about seven, eight, 10 degrees warmer,” said Alain Chevreux.

But with more walls comes more risk.

Sound Dr. Anne Rimoin - UCLA Epidemiology Professor 1:13-1:22

“The minute you start putting walls up -- even if they are tent walls -- you’re also creating much more enclosed space which will allow the virus to build up more quickly as well,” said UCLA Epidemiology Professor Dr. Anne Rimoin.

It has people in the food service industry hoping for an end to the pandemic and mild weather until that happens.

The National Restaurant Association said at least 3 million people in the industry are out of work right now. The group is pushing lawmakers to approve tax credits for restaurants to help improve the safety of indoor dining.

RELATED: Michigan restaurants push for federal funding package


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