More businesses join lawsuit against orange zone restaurant restrictions

Charles Molineaux
Updated: January 05, 2021 11:08 PM
Created: January 05, 2021 10:57 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Growing numbers of businesses, and now at least some Rochester city officials, are standing up with a lawsuit against the state over coronavirus restrictions.

The lawsuit demanding businesses in designated COVID orange zones be allowed to reopen is scheduled to go to court on Friday.

"People are scared. People are scared of retaliation,” said Donald Swartz, owner of Veneto Wood Fired Pizza and Pasta, one of the first Rochester businesses to join the lawsuit, brought by a Buffalo law firm largely on behalf of Erie County businesses.  

Swartz says some businesses have been leery of challenging the orange zone restrictions but more and more have decided they’ve had enough and are now joining him in a lawsuit demanding the state let them reopen for indoor dining.  

"I believe we're close to 70, maybe even 100,” he exclaimed. “It's starting to get legs. It's starting to grow. More people are interested. I think we started with 10, 15 when we started talking in December.” 

And now at least some city leaders are getting involved. In Rochester, City Councilman Jose Peo was billed as part of a Wednesday morning update on the lawsuit from lawyers for the businesses, most of them in Erie County which has also been declared an orange zone so restaurants there, like Veneto in Rochester, can only serve takeout or delivery, or outdoors in the cold. 

The state's regional reopening advisor, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President Bob Duffy, says he's been communicating the businesses' plight.

"Even before this suit was filed, the governor's team has been working on adjustments,” he explained. “But I believe the hindrance is right now are these huge spikes in our infection/hospitalization rates." 

Duffy warned that, with the Finger Lakes’ COVID numbers getting worse, not better, a reversal of the restrictions is unlikely soon.
Swartz says it's especially galling that businesses like his are all but shut down while those in the suburbs, with precautions, have some ability to serve.

"I'm not sure how the COVID knows the difference between Henrietta Road and East Avenue, but it's interesting. It's definitely interesting,” he said. 

"And I get it!” Duffy declared. “If a restaurant is on one side of the street and it's open, in the yellow zone, on the other side is an orange zone. They're closed." 

On Monday, lawyers for the restaurants announced there has been no progress on a compromise to let orange zone businesses reopen indoors to at least to the 50% capacity where they had been before this latest crackdown so their lawsuit will go ahead.

Duffy says this area has already made progress in reopening many types of businesses but that the final say belongs to COVID. 

“I do think we’re going to see relief, and a change, when we start to see these numbers go down,” he said, “And I hope they start going down… Now.”

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to court on Friday in Buffalo. 

Swartz says he will be there.

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