Post-lockdown

Lauren Johnson of Guys Mills works out on an elliptical machine at the Downtown YMCA on Wednesday evening.

This past Monday marked the end of the second major COVID-19 lockdown in Pennsylvania as restaurants, gyms and other previously restricted businesses were allowed to have in-person service once more. It was an occasion that had many local business owners celebrating.

Brandy Shartle, owner of the Crooked Paddle in Linesville, said her restaurant saw a good amount of business on its first day of dine-in service.

"People are really excited this round to see us again," she said. "My serving staff and back-half staff are pretty excited to be somewhat normal."

While the Crooked Paddle, which specializes in food such as pizza and chicken wings, was able to do takeout service during the COVID-19-pandemic lockdown, there was a noticeable decrease in such orders during this lockdown compared to the previous one.

"We saw a pretty big drop this last lockdown," Shartle said. "I'm not sure whether it's because of the holidays or where people were financially."

Barb Minik, owner of BoRocks Bar and Grille on Perry Highway, had a similar experience to Shartle when it came to the most recent lockdown.

"It was not as good as the first shutdown," she said of the takeout orders during the lockdown.

Minik estimated dine-in levels returned to about the same levels as they were before the lockdown, though noted the early evening seemed to have picked up.

For Minik, having her bar being placed under such restrictions while other businesses have been able to stay open has been a bitter experience.

"Not really seeing if this is coming from the restaurant and bar industry," she said. "I don't believe that when you have your Walmarts and your Sheetz. They can stay open and we can't."

While glad to be reopen to dine-in service, Minik is feeling nervous other lockdowns may be on the way, especially around upcoming holidays or events like the Super Bowl.

Chris Jackson, owner of Pennsylvania Sandwich & Pizza Co. on North Street, had an opposite experience compared to the other two eatery owners when it came to the lockdown.

"Oddly enough, it was up compared to the weeks prior," he said of business during the lockdown, "but I think that was people trying to shop local and support local businesses. We appreciate it."

Jackson said he wasn't happy about the shutdown, nor were many of his customers. He had received many calls during the weekend before the return to dine-in service from customers trying to find out when they would be able to sit down and eat again.

In Jackson's opinion, it is the atmosphere of a restaurant that drew many people to dine in last week after the lockdown period. The social aspect of being at a restaurant being much better than eating at home.

"It's more of a restaurant environment," he said. "You get to see people eat, you get to talk with them."

Looking forward, Jackson is feeling cautiously optimistic about the coming year. He is concerned more restrictions could be added in the future, but thinks the year overall will be an improvement.

"I think 2021 will be better than 2020," he said, "but there's a lot of unknowns and that makes it tough."

It wasn't just restaurants that were enjoying the return to in-person service. Gyms also had cause to celebrate, as January usually represents a major time of business for them due to New Year's resolutions.

Sean Amicucci, the membership, marketing and communications director for Meadville Family YMCA, said the Y has seen a lot of renewals on memberships since the shutdown ended.

"Over the past couple of days we have certainly seen a good increase in attendance compared to where we were at right before the shutdown," he said.

Returning members have been more talkative than usual, Amicucci noted, and it would appear they've not only missed working out at the YMCA, but the social aspect as well.

While allowed to have in-person service, the YMCA has canceled its usual Winter Meltdown program this year. The program helps encourage weight-loss accountability after New Year's, but concerns over the pandemic have placed it on hold.

The Y also has not fully reopened all of its features yet. The basketball courts cannot be used for their intended purpose at either the downtown Meadville YMCA or at the Vernon Township location. In the former's case, the space is being used for other programs, mostly childcare, according to Amicucci. For the latter, exercise machines have been spread out into the court to allow for proper social distancing.

In terms of future lockdowns, Amicucci is hopeful more don't happen, but said the YMCA is ready for such things to occur.

"I think we're cautiously optimistic heading into 2021, but we do have to prepare for any and all possibilities," he said.

Marcy Kantz, co-owner of Keystone Strength on Chestnut Street, expressed similar sentiments.

"Well I can't really predict, especially being in Pennsylvania, but I'm hoping they don't lockdown again," she said.

Gymgoers at Keystone Strength have been expressing a lot of excitement about the gym's in-person reopening. Kantz said one group that had been especially excited were the people who took part in the gym's yoga classes.

"We're definitely seeing a big stream of people coming back in," she said.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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