‘It’s Scary:’ The Coronavirus Struggle For Long Branch Eateries

This article originally appeared on the Long Branch-Eatontown Patch

LONG BRANCH, NJ — There was never a good time, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Ron’s West End Pub recently finished renovations, St. Patrick’s Day approached and they just ordered 500 pounds of corned beef.

But like almost every business in New Jersey, they had to adapt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The pub tried adapting to a takeout-only approach for a few days. But takeout sales reduced by half in each of the four days they tried.

Ron’s closed Friday until further notice.

“By the time Friday came around, we knew it wasn’t going to work for us to stay open and just sell food,” said Suzanne Heinzman, who owns the pub with her husband, Randy. “It’s never where we made money in the past, and financially it didn’t make sense.”

Ron’s is a small family business. Other than Suzanne and Randy, two other bartenders worked there — one for about 25 years. Collecting unemployment benefits becomes difficult when tips make up much of your income, Suzanne Heinzman says.

Many across New Jersey have faced similar issues. Fifteen-thousand New Jerseyans filed for unemployment March 19 alone, crashing the system. So many people have called to qualify for unemployment benefits that the New Jersey Department of Labor asked people to call within certain time windows based on their social security number.

“As scary as it is as a bar owner, I feel for all the employees (everywhere) sitting home not knowing,” Heinzman said. “My bartenders and my staff have no clue if and when they’ll get back to work.”

Uncertain Times

Fortunately for Ron’s, they sold about 90 percent of their corned beef. They broke even on the order, so the business was able to pay back their local vendor.

Now Suzanne Heinzman finds herself homeschooling her son, as New Jersey schools remain closed. She and Randy have no income, and they still have vendors to pay, along with a home mortgage. They’re trying to maintain stability while keeping fear away from their child.

“It’s scary,” Suzanne said. “We sat on the phone all day. We called mortgage companies and car companies, gas companies, cable companies about what kind of assistance we can get. There’s very little out there right now, especially for a small-business owner.”

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Before the coronavirus outbreak, Ron’s recently finished some renovations, including a new bar top and paint job. But they made the difficult decision to close entirely after Friday.

Suzanne and Randy returned to the Saturday to clean it once more, wondering if they had anything they could sell.

The pub has had a “Sopranos” pinball machine for about 15 years. The staple of New Jersey memorabilia created many memories along the way. Suzanne said the decision to put it on the market was more difficult for Randy. If they sell it, they plan to buy another in the future, but now it’s up for $6,350.

“I tried to convince my husband there’s others out there,” Suzanne said. “It doesn’t take away memories. It will add new ones.”

Long Branch’s Next Chapter

Patch asked Suzanne Heinzman on Monday how people could help struggling businesses. She wasn’t sure, but she knew things could change quickly.

Later Monday, she passed along a link to a virtual tip jar. The document collects the names of businesses and employees currently out of work and allows people to make donations. Click here to donate.

The City of Long Branch also began assembling a list of restaurants offering takeout and delivery during the coronavirus outbreak.

Although Ron’s completely closed, that won’t stop them from supporting the rest of the community’s small businesses.

“We have some great friends and neighbors who have chosen to stay open, who do great with their food sales,” Suzanne Heinzman said. “And we’re trying to support them and get people to do takeout and delivery through them.”

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