HARRISBURG — Rep. Kurt Masser gave an empathetic speech on the House floor Tuesday during which he called for the passage of a bill allowing retail businesses staffed by one employee to open for business.
House Bill 2376 would prevent Gov. Tom Wolf from closing retail stores that comply with the one-staffer, one-shopper rule and enable small retailers to offer curbside pickup service for customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This bill is about one simple thing: either you are with the big box stores or with your small businesses, the moms and pops, which are the backbone of this country,” the Republican from the 107th District stated prior to the bill’s passage along party lines.
Masser, who has owned the Wayside Inn for 31 years, said the Democratic governor took a “whack-a-mole” approach to the waiver process for reopening businesses that were not originally deemed life-sustaining.
Masser accused Wolf of not being transparent about how “the winners and losers” of the waiver process were chosen.
“That’s the whack-a-mole approach,” he said, which was followed by applause.
Masser told legislators that he has been cleaning his restaurant and social distancing because he cares for his customers and employees. He criticized those who have expressed compassion, but have not supported the bill.
“Please don’t tell me so casually ‘you get it.’ Because unless you sign the front of a check, unless the lives of your employees and customers are dependent on what you do, then you just don’t get it,” Masser passionately stated. “My bottom line is feeding my family and feeding the families of the 75 people who work for me.”
Masser questioned the commonwealth’s efforts to assist small businesses, stating that it has allowed its employees to conduct business in a “safe manner,” but has not afforded the same opportunity to all business owners.
He also said the federal Paycheck Protection Program “means nothing” for the restaurant industry.
“You have to have people employed. How can I have people employed, if I can’t be open?” he asked. “But we have Disaster Relief Funds. Well, guess what, the last thing I need is another loan. Unless you are the ones paying back these loans, you just don’t get it.”
Bill sponsor Rep. Brad Roae, R-6, said the bill is an issue of fairness and access for customers. The Wolf administration, he added, provided a waiver application process, but it shut that down weeks ago.
“Pennsylvanians could shop at small stores with one worker and no other customers, rather than going to large grocery chains or big box stores with dozens of workers and hundreds of customers,” Roae said. “If curbside pickup service is good enough for government liquor stores, it should be good enough for Pennsylvania’s small businesses.”
House Bill 2376 now heads to the Senate for consideration.