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Business owners reflect on two years since first pandemic lockdowns

Two years ago this week, Pennsylvanians and people across the country were sheltering indoors, enduring the first days of lockdowns due to a newly-discovered virus.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — In the early days of the pandemic, feelings of fear and uncertainty were never more powerful. Two years later, some business owners in Wilkes-Barre won't forget those moments.

"It feels like April 635th of 2020, that's what it feels like," said Jay Notartomaso, owner of Musical Energi.

It's been a challenging two years for business owners in Luzerne County and across the country. In March of 2020, Notartomaso had no idea what was coming.

"First, I thought I was going to get a little vacation, and it ended up being a nightmare," he said. "I was closed for three months and had no income. So, it was just a scramble."

Around the corner at King of Kings Gyros, CEO Jason Negron saw business dry up overnight.

"Slow, like I thought, 'oh my God, this can't be. I don't know if I can survive another month like this, another two months like this,'" he said. "But then, it just picked up."

Luckily, Negron had just opted into several mobile food delivery services. While customers were no longer showing up at his door, the orders started pouring in. "That was probably 70% of our business, 80%," he said.

Musical Energi got creative too, offering curbside services, online orders, and even delivery.

"People play records when they're home," Notartomaso said. "They weren't spending money on concerts and bars and going out to dinner, so people were buying a lot of records and record players. So, that was good."

While some flourished, the pandemic threatened other businesses in the city center. 

Employees from some of Wilkes-Barre's largest offices were sent home, meaning fewer daytime customers for shops and restaurants downtown.

"There's no lunch crowd anymore," Negron said. "There's a couple here and there, but it's not like it used to be before COVID. I just can't wait until people actually work downtown. It would help everyone, not just me."

There are signs that more daytime activity will soon return to downtown. An employee from Berkshire Hathaway Guard told Newswatch 16 some employees returned to work in Public Square for the first time on Monday and employees will be required to work there two days a week beginning early next month.

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