Opinion: HEY! St. Clair County! How much more can our restaurants take?

The 2021 St. Clair County Food Establishment Permit
Application Hop House received (Facebook: Michael Durso)

By Nick Miller
Weekly Publisher

I’ve spoken before about how restaurants and bars have suffered worse than perhaps other businesses during the Covid mitigation efforts. A big part of going to a restaurant or bar is the experience of it. Being able to sit with our friends and family, with ambiance we enjoy, and with good service from friendly faces. But restaurants and bars have lost the ability to give their patrons that experience and are forced to do take-out or outdoor dining in December. Not ideal…
That’s why it was so incredibly sickening to see a social media post this weekend from Hop House owner Michael Durso sharing that he had received his 2021 St. Clair County Food Establishment Permit Application in the mail along with its $550 fee. Durso rightly pointed out that despite everything that has happened this year, he has to pay the fee to get his license so that he can sell what food he can.
What kind of situation is that to be in? You’re already struggling to sell your food in order to pay your staff and keep your own head above water, and here comes the county government, who has demanded and enforced that restaurants cannot operate as normal during the pandemic, with its hand out looking to get theirs.
It’s an incredibly thoughtless and tone deaf action by county leadership. St. Clair County has delayed penalties for folks that haven’t made their property taxes as a form of Covid relief. Why can’t they delay or waive permit fees for restaurants for the same reason?
Hop House is a larger operation and under normal circumstances would probably have no problem coming up with the $550 fee. But these days, when all their business is take out and they probably haven’t served a drop of alcohol in a while (which any restaurant or bar will tell you is where the real significant revenue is made), that $550 might be a week’s profit or more. And for a restaurant smaller than Hop House? Their fee might be the financial nail in their coffin.
I can only hope this is an oversight by St. Clair County and that Chairman Mark Kern and the County Board can quickly act to suspend the collection of those fees to provide some help to a business class that has been brutalized this year. And I would hope every restaurant and bar owner in St. Clair County would demand that simple relief from their leaders.
In the meantime, I encourage every single person reading this to go buy gift cards from local restaurants for people on your Christmas lists. It adds a cash infusion into the business and gives your friends and family a nice night out once we’re back to normal.
And while we’re on the subject of restaurants getting a raw deal, if I owned a restaurant in Belleville, I’d make a poster out of the picture of Mayor Mark Eckert over in Rigazzi’s last weekend and hang it in my front window so everyone could see how big of a hypocrite he is. But I digress…