Restaurant owners hope for boost from Tennessee tax holiday this weekend

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The COVID-19 pandemic has hit many small businesses hard, but this weekend in Tennessee, lawmakers are making it easier for you to help.

Beginning Friday and ending Sunday at 11:59 p.m., the retail sale of food and drink by restaurants and limited service restaurants, could be exempt from sales tax.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Revenue said restaurants have the option to participate in the tax holiday or not.

Inspire Community Café in Binghampton is just one of many restaurants seeing a huge drop in sales.

Owner Kristin Fox-Trautman said she’s grateful the state is giving restaurants a small leg up this weekend.

“It’s helpful, if our customers can save in their pocketbook, the 9.75 percent sales tax, and that incentivizes them to come and choose to eat out more than they would’ve,” she said.

Inspire Community Cafe is closed for dine-in but still open for curbside pickup. It’s been that way since June. Before that, the restaurant was closed for two months, in April and May.

That’s why a big sign out front says “Welcome Back!”

Fox-Trautman said she made the tough decision to temporarily close for a time earlier this year because her staff all has school-age children at home.

“When everybody on your team has children at home who are now doing online learning, that really created a challenge,” she said.

That’s just one of a litany of issues facing small businesses. Since they’ve re-opened, it’s still been tough.

“Sales are probably 25-30 percent of our [normal] sales because people aren’t out and about doing their routines,” Fox-Trautman said.

They’re not alone. The latest report from the Greater Memphis Chamber shows the area has an unemployment rate of more than 11 percent, with Shelby County having the highest of any Tennessee county.

According to the Memphis chamber, 32 Shelby County businesses have closed or downsized since March 25. The changes have affected 1,100 employees.

Bloomberg News reports around a third of the country’s 600,000 restaurants will likely close by the end of 2020.

It’s a grim outlook but Fox-Trautman is staying positive.

‘When you choose to dine out, really think local,” she said.

She hopes that’s the extra push to get a few more takeout orders in this weekend.

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