By Kristina Rex

BOSTON (CBS) – If you walk one block — 0.1 miles — in Boston’s South End, you see a picture indicative of the pandemic’s effect on restaurants.

At one end, on the corner of Washington and Union Park, is Boston Chops. On the Tuesday night before Christmas, three tables have customers. Ninety percent of the restaurant is empty.

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Walk just down the street past a bank and you see Burro Bar. This time — two tables are full.

Walk around the corner, and you run into Gaslight. The once popular French Brasserie is closed, for good, with its owner hopeful to open a new restaurant come spring. A note on the door tells customers, “thanks for the memories.”

Normally, “you would have one of the last nights of your Christmas parties tonight, and then you’d have shoppers eating after they’re done shopping,” Gaslight owner Jeffrey Gates told WBZ. “In January 2020 – like all of us – I never thought this would be my life.”

Instead, holiday parties are canceled, people are fearful of dining indoors because of COVID-19 transmission, and limitations are being reduced to stop the spread.

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Given Congress’ passing of a COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Bill on Monday – which President Trump later criticized – small businesses should be feeling some level of relief. Instead, restaurant owners tell us they’re stressed, particularly because the bill doesn’t explicitly deliver help to restaurants. It targets theaters, museums, and airlines, but includes restaurant relief in the form of Payment Protection Loans, which require owners hire staff back.

Chef Chris Coombs of Boston Urban Hospitality explained that he wants to hire everyone back, but it’s difficult given the lack of customers to serve.

“I’m not saying theaters don’t need help,” he explained while criticizing the stimulus bill. “They do, but think of all the restaurants and small businesses that are directly around those theaters that rely on those theaters to be full. Where’s the relief for them?…Time and time again, we’re seeing huge airline bailouts, and the small restaurateur — well, we’re just being shoved to the side.”

Add in Governor Baker’s announcement that all businesses will have to reduce capacity to 25 percent after Christmas to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and Chef Coombs calls it “salt in the wound.”

“You know, [you’re] looking your team in the eyes every day and wondering, ‘is that going to be the next person I need to lay off so that my business can survive?’” he said.

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Coombs is hopeful that a financial package being announced by Governor Baker on Wednesday could help his businesses, but feels for the businesses already forced to shut down. “The restaurant industry in the South End may never be the same,” he told WBZ.

Kristina Rex