Coronavirus

Charlie Baker responds to recent spate of ‘heartbreaking’ restaurant closures

"If the customers aren't there, then the rules at some level at the end of the day really aren't going to solve the problem."

A sign advertising takeout stands outside The Fours on a deserted Canal Street shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Barry Chin / The Boston Globe

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Gov. Charlie Baker was asked Thursday if we was considering loosening any COVID-19 restaurant restrictions, after a series of well-known bars and eateries in the Boston area announced earlier this week they would close for good.

But according to Baker, changing the rules won’t do much if people remain hesitant about going out to eat due to the pandemic.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the way some of this plays out,” Baker said. “But if the customers aren’t there, then the rules at some level at the end of the day really aren’t going to solve the problem.”

While the state’s current reopening rules prohibit bars from opening and require the restaurants that have reopened to comply with costly distancing and cleaning standards, Baker noted that the administration had pushed measures to ease the burden during the difficult time, such as by giving local officials more flexibility to issue outdoor dining permits and by providing money to help eateries expand their outside service.

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“We continue to have conversations with the restaurant community about things we might be able to do to continue to help them going forward,” he said.

Still, in the midst of the global pandemic, it hasn’t been enough for an increasing number of bars and restaurants. Just this week, longtime standbys including The Fours, The Pour House, Lir, and the Friendly Toast’s location in Cambridge announced they were closing for good. Bob Luz, the president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, has predicted that at least 25 percent of independent restaurants won’t survive the pandemic.

“It stinks. It stinks,” Baker said Thursday. “A lot of this stinks. But part of what comes with COVID — and honestly it’s why we’ve been so aggressive about trying to get this notion across that the most important thing we need to do, as a commonwealth, is to beat this thing back, because the more we beat it back, the more opportunity there is for people to feel comfortable that they can do some of the things they were doing before.”

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Following a small mid-summer uptick in statewide COVID-19 rates, Baker also revised the rules last month to prohibit establishments from serving alcohol to customers if they didn’t also purchase food prepared on-site, in an effect to crack down on “bars masquerading as restaurants,” which threw some places — particularly beer gardens and breweries — for a loop. That said, except in rare cases, no local restaurants have cited the restrictions themselves for why they made the decision to shutter.

Baker pointed to how the number of daily passengers at Logan Airport dropped by nearly 90 percent as illustrative of how people chose to travel and go out less. He also said lack of local live sports has a “ripple effect” on the local economy.

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“The economic consequences of the virus, period, even with things that are open and available to customers, is profound and significant, and in many cases incredibly distressing,” he said.

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