Airport restaurants, retailers seeking coronavirus relief from congress

Of the 125,000 concession workers, the ARRA estimates that just 5 percent are currently employed

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It’s fight or flight for airport restaurants and retailers.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act allotted $10 billion in grants to U.S. airports affected by COVID-19, while airlines are eligible for up to $50 billion through the stimulus bill, but none of that federal funding is helping airport bars, restaurants and retailers, many of whom are still on the hook for rent, amid thousands in lost revenue.

The Airport Restaurant and Retail Association, a trade group, is asking for $5 billion in loans and grants to help airport retailers recover from the financial devastation of COVID-19. 

“We’re trying to tell Congress that 'You missed us. You totally overlooked concessionaires.’ We're hoping and urging that they will provide relief,” Rob Wigington, executive director of the Airport Restaurant and Retail Association, a trade group, told FOX Business Friday.

The ARRA is asking for $5 billion in loans and grants to help airports restaurants and retailers -- a combination of small regional businesses, boutiques and national chains -- survive and recover. The proposed funding, Wigington said, is needed to help airport businesses reopen, rehire, fund employee wages and benefits and provide sterilization training, among other expenses.

“We’re trying to tell Congress that 'You missed us. You totally overlooked concessionaires.’ We're hoping and urging that they will provide relief,” 

- Rob Wigington, executive director of the Airport Restaurant and Retail Association

The organization estimated that airport restaurants and retail storefronts would do just $38 billion in sales in April, compared with the $825 million at the same time last year.

Employment has also dropped dramatically. Of the 125,000 concession workers, the ARRA estimates that just 5 percent are currently employed.

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Rent for an airport concessionaire is already high at about $1,000 per square foot for concession construction, and that can be 15 to 20 percent of sales for business during normal circumstances, according to the ARRA.

"If operators are required to pay rent with no sales for any period, all operators will eventually fail," Wigington urged.

Travelers dining at food court in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport pre coroanvirus. Now, dining tables will be separated from a social distance. 

Unlike stand-alone restaurants, airport concessionaires were unable to operate on delivery or curbside pickup, and with traffic down up to 98 percent nationwide, revenue is increasingly scarce. Now, businesses will need to stock up on disposable menus, personal protective equipment and safeguarding materials like plexiglass dividers at cash registers and implement mobile payment methods.

On the retail side, the days of sifting through T-shirts, souvenirs, trying on sunglasses and sampling perfume or makeup pre-flight are over, Corliss Stone-Littles, an airport retailer and has been in the industry for decades, said.

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"We have to change all that and that's a big part of selling the products. We are currently working on how we not only redesign our stores but redesign our practices. We're not going to have long lines at registers," Stone-Littles said.

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