BRISTOL BOROUGH >> Gov. Tom Wolf visited Bristol Borough on Friday to highlight state efforts to financially help scores of county restaurants and hotels harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wolf gathered at the Bristol Wharf with State Rep. John Galloway, Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie, Bristol Borough Council Vice President Betty Rodriguez, Bob Cormac of the Bucks County Economic Development Corporation, representatives from Visit Bucks County and other state and local officials to tout the nearly $7 million in state funding distributed recently to 196 Bucks County businesses in 36 municipalities.

The individual, need-based grants, ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 each, were provided through the $145 million COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP). Eighty-five percent of the recipients were restaurant and food service companies, while the remainder are businesses offering lodging.

Wolf said within 28 hours of passage of the CHIRP program by the legislature, all 67 counties had applied for the assistance.

“Our hotels, restaurants and bars have faced so many difficult challenges over the past year and a half,” Wolf said, “and through it all, Pennsylvanians stood behind them, showing support for their favorite local eateries in incredible ways. My administration is proud to help by providing this critical financial assistance, and we are grateful to our partners who put in a tremendous effort to get these grants to businesses as quickly as possible.”

Among the Bucks County recipients was Itri Wood Fired, a Bristol Borough restaurant owned by Dana Pezza. Despite the challenges, Pezza said she was able to retain her staff and remained throughout the pandemic with no layoffs thanks to the funding.

“This pandemic has effected many types of businesses in various ways,” said Pezza. “It’s well-documented how much the restaurant industry has been impacted. While we and many of our friends in this business have been agile and resourceful, government assistance has been and remains essential to get our industry back on our feet.

“CHIRP has been unbelievably helpful to us in retaining all of our staff, which has been our top priority,” Pezza said.

“Our employees, many of whom have been with us since day one, mean a lot to us,” said Pezza. “We know them as people. We know their families. We know their children. They are more to us than just our employees.

“It has also helped as we have made changes based on the new realities of what our patrons need and want and CHIRP has simply helped us weather the storm and survive,” said Pezza.

“My business along with 13 others in this area were able to secure a CHIRP grant and I can say with 100 percent certainty that if we had not been able to secure such funds we would never have been able to stay open, we would never have been able to keep our employees working. We are very appreciative for this program.”

Bucks County’s CHIRP distribution was administered through the county’s Department of Workforce and Economic Development through an application process that ended March 15. Distribution of the grants began in April.

The grants were a welcome addition to the millions of dollars in economic assistance distributed by the county to the business community in 2020 through the federal CARES Act.

“The impact of the pandemic on our economy was historic, and the hospitality industry took much of the hit,” Harvie said. “I was proud that we, as a county, could issue as many grants as we did in 2020, but we knew more was needed. The CHIRP grant from the state is an example of government seeing a problem and taking action on a bipartisan basis to help people affected by the problem.”

Harvie said the CHIRP program came along just as the county’s Bucks Back to Work program was winding down after distributing $27 million to 1300 businesses throughout the county.

“I can’t say strongly enough how much we appreciated the governor’s efforts to institute the CHIRP program. The CHIRP program coming along when it did was perfect timing,” said Harvie. “I know it’s a huge benefit here in Bristol Borough, throughout Bucks County and the Commonwealth. It was clearly indispensable in keeping businesses alive and flourishing into 2021.”

CHIRP grants were offered to for-profit businesses having a tangible worth of no more than $15 million that could document at least a 25 percent drop in 2020 revenue. Eligible entities also needed to have an NAICS classification code designating them as businesses offering lodging and/or food and drink.

Bristol Borough Council Vice President Betty Rodriguez thanked the governor for the program for for choosing Bristol for his press conference.

“It’s been very useful to our community because we have been trying to keep Mill Street afloat,” she said. “It was hard when COVID hit. A lot of businesses weren’t able to flourish the way they were. They had to do a lot of take out which hampered a lot of things. With that said, we are working hard with everyone to make it what it used to be if not better.”

The hospitality industry in Bucks County was credited with supporting more than 28,700 jobs in 2019, and with attracting 8.1 million visitors. The annual economic impact of tourism and hospitality in the county is estimated at $1.1 billion.

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