COVID-19 threatens Mon Valley’s emergence from economic decline, but small business owners remain hopeful

Top left: Jason Lott, co-owner of Ink Division. Bottom left: Cheryl Stasinowsky of Mary’s Vine. Right: Kamahlai and Maurice Stewart, owners of House of Soul Catering. (Photos by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

by Matt Petras

When word spread of the first coronavirus outbreaks, Cheryl Stasinowsky didn’t know what it would mean for her business Mary’s Vine, a wine bar in Rankin that she runs with her family. She didn’t imagine states would begin to shut down businesses. Still, she started to see fewer and fewer customers show up for wine.

“On a night when we normally would have a full house, we maybe had 10 all night,” Stasinowsky said. “We had to start letting our employees go earlier, and they weren’t getting tips,” she said. “Reservations were canceling like it was just nothing. Just cancel, cancel, cancel.”

Mary’s Vine only opened for business in late August, about seven months before the virus hit the United States hard.

“March was supposed to be the month we were finally gonna come out the other end of the whole thing and finally start breaking even because we had built up our customer base and it was going really well,” Stasinowsky said. “And we lost a ton of money in March.”

Central to the elevator pitch for Mary’s Vine is its unique atmosphere, nestled inside a renovated church. The business was not prepared to offer takeout food during the shutdown, Stasinowsky said, so the family has been on unemployment while offering takeout wine for a few hours on Saturdays. While the family business has received federal aid from the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, it hasn’t made up for all the lost business.

“I don’t have sour grapes against anyone because the governor’s doing the best he can. Everyone’s trying to do the best they can, but no one’s ever done this before so they don’t even know what the best is,” Stasinowsky said. “It’s hard for all of us.”

Cheryl Stasinosky stands in front of rows and cases of wine.

Cheryl Stasinowsky inside of Mary’s Vine, a wine bar that opened for business in August 2019. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Stasinowsky’s story feels familiar to many business owners and residents in Mon Valley towns like Rankin, Braddock, Homestead and West Mifflin, where the pandemic has halted progress toward a revitalized business landscape in areas often defined by decades of economic decline. And it’s bars and restaurants that are being hit the hardest due to the increased health risks associated with these sorts of gathering places.

Many Mon Valley business owners and community leaders believe the pandemic won’t squander the progress that’s been made in recent years. Still, with no end to the pandemic and a shortage of aid money, the Mon Valley area is left with yet another daunting economic challenge.

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COVID-19 threatens Mon Valley’s emergence from economic decline, but small business owners remain hopeful

 

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