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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Business

Washington lawmakers voice support for struggling hospitality industry

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 23, 2020

The Historic Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane is shown on July 30, 2020. Washington could be on the brink of losing half of its restaurants and hotels unless they get more financial relief, an industry official said Monday.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
The Historic Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane is shown on July 30, 2020. Washington could be on the brink of losing half of its restaurants and hotels unless they get more financial relief, an industry official said Monday. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review

Washington could be on the brink of losing half of its restaurants and hotels unless state and federal lawmakers agree to some new level of relief during the second wave of shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, an industry official said Monday.

Anthony Anton, the Washington Hospitality president and CEO, hosted four state lawmakers Monday to start the discussion about how to immediately find help for the industry that has taken the brunt of lost business and employees during the pandemic.

“The hospitality industry has been hanging by a thread,” Anton said. “Even before this latest shutdown, we estimated 35% of our state’s hospitality businesses would close permanently. This recent closure will only make that number worse.”

Anton hosted a virtual conference Monday with state Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland; Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy; Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines; and Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, to start the conversation about what state lawmakers can do to support many of the small businesses that provide the bulk of revenue that allows the state to fund all of its operations.

Anton estimated the latest shutdown could cost the state’s restaurants about $800 million in lost revenue.

“Hotels have been hit even harder with an over 70% drop in revenue and people suggesting foreclosure numbers at almost 50% without federal relief,” he said. “So, we know we have to come together. What we are hoping to do is start today to work together with fresh eyes.”

Short said the hardest part of the pandemic, for her, has been to watch small businesses struggle.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to set aside some of our own personal priorities to really think how we can help people through this unprecedented time,” she said. “I think waiting until January will be too long. I think we need to step forward and do some of the emergent things that need to be done.”

Short noted revenue from small businesses allows the state to fund education and many of the other functions. Those same businesses are the fabric, and in many cases, the identity of small communities.

“I am willing and ready to stand with my Democratic colleagues and look for things we can do right now to aid our hospitality industry,” Short said. “These are the kinds of things that really produce the best results.”

Mosbrucker agreed, saying that tourism and hospitality are the heartbeat of many small Washington communities. She’s had 25 years in the hospitality industry, which has lost virtually all of the customers that it once relied on for business.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mosbrucker said. “It’s absolutely devastating.”

She appreciated efforts by Gov. Jay Inslee to free up more dollars, but she said it’s not enough. And, any answer that provides more loans to struggling businesses will not work.

“The last thing we want to do is a loan,” she said. “When we add more and more numbers in debt, it feels like, to us, we will close even sooner when we have been in this state of emergency for so long.”

Springer, who has been in the hospitality industry for 40 years, said lawmakers should not walk into the next session looking for answers.

“I think on day one of the 2021 session, one of the highest priorities for our budget team is what we can do at the state level to provide some modicum of financial support for industry sectors, especially the hospitality sector,” he said. “Whatever number we come up with is probably inadequate.

“That said, it’s imperative that if appropriate financial support is going to be made available for this industry and others, Congress and the White House … has got to step up.”

Anton agreed and thanked the lawmakers for at least starting a discussion about identifying the need, if not yet solving the support side of the equation.

“We know these things will be difficult,” he said. “And, we can’t afford to wait for months and months of negotiations before we can get relief for people who are honestly running out of cash as we speak.”

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