At this point it is a cliché to say that “everything changed” for both residents of Philadelphia and its business owners in 2020 – but that does not make it any less true.

Prior to March 2020, Philadelphia businesses survived, and some indeed thrived, in spite of an entrenched political regime that saddled them with the most onerous business tax structure and the highest poverty rate of any major American city. Philadelphians enjoyed a vibrant, ever expanding restaurant scene, live music venues, theatre, sports and a variety of world-class cultural institutions. We persisted in opening and running a variety of businesses, navigating the ironically name business “privilege” tax, ducking onerous regulations and surviving under a City Council intent on taxing anything that managed to produce a dime in revenue.

Intrepid Philadelphians, however, cannot overcome a City Hall that arbitrarily decides, with virtually no notice, to simply stop businesses from effectively operating – and allows open season for looting of entire storefronts and neighborhoods to occur with no pushback.

Indeed, nine months of looting and lockdowns have swiftly erased the strategic points of economic leverage enjoyed by Philadelphia: dynamic cultural institutions, world-class universities, and a geographically advantageous position at the center of the most important political and commercial corridor on the planet.

But we’re just talking property, right? And if we can shut down economic activity to save lives, aren’t we compelled to do so?

While the organizing principle for policy-making purports to be preventing the spread of a highly transmissible virus, whatever the cost, in action the government responses have been arbitrary and capricious. Restaurants may only offer tables outside and only to four people at a table who are members of the same household. Would a family of six, sitting outside, spread the virus? College sports may continue – but high school and grade school activities may not. Malls and retail establishments may remain open, but museums and libraries must close. Take-out and food delivery is permitted but catering is not allowed, indoors or out, if the gathering includes more than one household. Gyms are allowed, until cases are surging, until they’re allowed while cases are surging again.

The rules appear to be grounded in guesswork rather than data.

The economic toll on Philadelphia and the region we support from the devastating effects not just of Covid-19 but of the governmental response to it, and from not one but two waves of free-for-all looting has yet to be realized for most of our neighbors.

The marketplace is locked down

The City of Philadelphia drives the economy of a region of millions of people, stretching from the city limits to its bordering collar counties, north and west to the Lehigh Valley and Lancaster, east to New Jersey, and south to Delaware. City officials impact not only their own residents, but also our neighbors across county and state lines.

And it is small and family business owners in our region, and the jobs and households they support, who bear the brunt of the poor local response to the events of 2020.

The economic toll on Philadelphia and the region we support from the devastating effects not just of Covid-19 but of the governmental response to it, and from not one but two waves of free-for-all looting has yet to be realized for most of our neighbors.

Large chains like Target, Walmart and Amazon tend not to be directly affected when a city like Philly mismanages the local economy. These firms already have significantly smaller physical footprints here than in other major cities. When Philadelphia becomes too expensive and too much of a headache to operate in, Walmart and Amazon can simply pack up and leave (or never set up shop in the first place). Philadelphia City Hall responds with a shrug and a tax increase on the winnowing pool of businesses left behind.

It is the small business owner whose unique flavor and products distinguish Philly from the dozens of other American metropolises. When government forces these restaurants, bars, and shops to close for months on end – or to pivot to less lucrative streams of revenue at great cost – many eventually close for good. Do we want a city with local culture, or would we rather just hole up in our overtaxed homes, waiting for package delivery?

READ MORE Albert Eisenberg and Spencer Landis: ‘There is no specific single number’ — Philly officials cagey on metrics to ease Covid business lockdowns

Now we have faced down an indefinite second lockdown that Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney so much as admitted involved no particular data or benchmark for Covid cases or hospital bed availability. In fact, according to the mayor, “the city is currently open.” Really? He should walk home for a change. Closed and vacancy signs abound.

Free goods are available

Adding to the list of negligence is Mayor Kenney’s refusal to repel the widespread looting that occurred night after night across the city in both May and October, spurred perhaps by police shootings (the second case was of an armed black man in Philadelphia), but guaranteed by a lackadaisical public response that allowed looters to take hold of key commercial corridors like Aramingo Avenue.

With helicopters overhead, curfews in place and business boarded-up, city residents braced for violence and destruction. What followed was often worse, including gun crimes and scores of injuries to public safety officers. Not to mention the millions of dollars in property damage to homes and businesses already suffering. With two bouts of such mayhem in just six months, how many insurance companies will continue to provide coverage for businesses in Philadelphia?

In 2021, business owners of all types, from service providers to retailers to manufacturers, are adding looting to their growing list of cost of doing business in Philadelphia. Many will say, “no thanks,” and pack up shop.

READ MOREThom Nickels: Philadelphia, despoiled — looting, boarded-up stores and surveillance shows a city on the brink

As United States Attorney Bill McSwain remarked in late October, “This nation is grounded in freedom of speech. At its core is every American’s right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly. Just as importantly, this nation is also grounded in the rule of law. It is imperative that we preserve both.” City officials, and most of the media, were deliberately negligent in conflating peaceful demonstrations with looting, arson and violence – and businesses large and small had to pick up the pieces.

Many business owners will say, “no thanks,” and pack up shop.

It is now a new year, and it is time to remember what upholds our civilization and way of life.

Tax reform can be debated, the best programs to enhance workforce development can be brainstormed, and regulatory reform can be weighed, but the physical safety of workers and workplaces cannot be left in question. For the future of the city of Philadelphia and for our Commonwealth as a whole, local, state, and federal leaders must ensure order and freedom from looting, destruction of property, arson and other forms of violence.

And yes, for those who are wondering, all of these are acts of real violence: violence that can quickly escalate and beget even more violence.

We are as shocked as our neighbors are that such a call to action is even necessary or remotely controversial. 

In America, we have built a city on a hill first and foremost by the protection of individual rights; foremost among these is the right to live unencumbered by both authoritarian governments and the rule of the mob. Sadly, in the cradle of liberty, the present political and media consensus seems to be that lockdowns and looting will be the new cost of business in Philadelphia. It is time we push back and ensure that this temporary reality does not become permanent.

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3 thoughts on “The Editors: Lootings and lockdowns – the new cost of doing business in Philadelphia”

  1. Whenever I hear the phrase, “We’re all in this together,” I have to fight the urge to throw up. With restaurants locked down, and when not locked down, constrained to the level of actual business activity, did any health or license and inspection employee of the City get a layoff notice? With schools closed, teachers, principals, and IT types were needed to do virtual education, but were any of the other support staff laid off by the school district? When sports schedules were curtailed and fans eliminated from attending, the folks who worked in the stadiums suffered, but did any athlete give up a portion of their salary to help out those affected? I could go on and on.

    1. I hear you loud and clear Frank, and I could help you expand your list but we are already all too aware of the list and its consequences. I moved back to Philly eight years ago after making my life and business elsewhere for 40 years. I researched several cities around the country and Philly was the place to come and it was vibrant, growing, and like I never could have imagined growing up. Now? I would get the hell out if I could but feel at this point trapped until these draconian lockdowns enforced by mediocre talents Mussolini wannabes are ended which will not be anytime soon. And like you, I could go on and on too…..

  2. These Democratic leaders here in Philly have put political correctness ahead of all rational. It’s disgusting how this city has degraded even more so over the last year. Hopefully things can get better but it will take a long time cause in reality who the hell would want to open a small business here now unless you’re eligible for them grants. Crime is like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m tired of being summons for jury duty because of all the losers that reside here!

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