On what may have been the last somewhat normal Sunday afternoon in the foreseeable future, Rapture’s was one of several restaurants to remain open on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall , operating under increased sanitization protocols with a sign on the door saying, “Sanitized for your pleasure.” By Sunday evening the tone was completely different when owner Mike Rodi announced its indefinite closure and urged his peers to do the same. 

“I am doing this because it is irresponsible to continue to offer a venue for people to interact socially and to therefore provide an environment for COVID-19 to spread,” he posted on Facebook. “Its spread, the consequence for human life, and the economy, is inevitable. But each person needs to step up now, and begin to engage in the only behavior that will turn the tide on this: self-isolating.

Rapture’s announcement comes at a time of uncertainty for the hospitality industry. Operating margins for the sector are often very tight and UVa.’s cancellation of on-Grounds classes and events means there are lean months ahead. Washington D.C. closed restaurants and bars yesterday, and Maryland followed suit today

In closing Rapture, Rodi noted that it may only be a matter of time before a statewide mandate of this kind hits Virginia, and he decided Rapture should lead by example. Responses to his decision were strong. 

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A sign on the door of Rapture addresses its clients as "friends" and promises "THE PARTY WILL BE HERE" if the community and business pulls through the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit: Giles Morris / Charlottesville Tomorrow

Commenter Melissa Wyatt wrote: “I can’t believe I’m crying about a restaurant, but I am. This takes such an enormous amount of courage and a leap into the unknown, especially after all the turmoil you experienced after Aug 12 nightmare.”

Since Rodi’s announcement, other local restaurants have announced closures across several social media platforms.

As of Monday, Bizou suspended dine-in operations but remains open for the time being.

“We are focusing all efforts on offering carryout and eventually delivery,” its chalk sign reads. “We are committed to continuing employment for our staff, and delicious, safe and nourishing food for our beloved community.”

As of Monday,  Cville Escape Room had been closed since March 11, while Cinema Taco and other coffee shops remain open but with safety measures in place. Java Java turned to to-go orders only.

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Bizou alters operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit: Giles Morris / Charlottesville Tomorrow

Meanwhile, a group of locals with ties to the industry has been trying to respond to the fluid situation by creating resource pages for the hospitality industry. Charlottesville 29 created a post titled “Charlottesville Restaurants: Here’s How You Can Help Save Them,” which offers the option to purchase gift cards for future purchases so that restaurants can have the upfront cash they need immediately to stay afloat. 

“For regular favorites that you plan to visit anyway, this will literally cost you no money,” the site reads. “You are merely paying now for a check you would have to pay later anyway. So, for example, buy a $500 gift certificate now, and then use it all year long. Without needed cash flow, your favorites might not still be around.”

Local resident Margo Bulka spent her weekend coordinating with various nonprofits and researching ways to help the hospitality industry and local students to create a resource directory called “Support CVille.” It’s a directory listing for ways to support local organizations right now, with headings like “Volunteer to drive, organize, make, deliver, etc.”

“I’m witnessing this amazing amount of community involvement,” Bulka said.

One of the restaurant-specific links within Bulka’s directory, is the Charlottesville Restaurant Community Fund, a GoFundMe created by Kaitlin Ellwood to help support local restaurants and their employees. Ellwood is the former manager of Citizen Burger Bar on the Downtown Mall who is connected to people in the service industry, which is exposed to high risk from both public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Restaurants are the heart and soul of our town,” Ellwood said. “In Charlottesville, they are your neighbors, friends, moms, dads, sisters, and brothers. They are your family, your happy place, your spot that feels like home. A community of collective voices and ideas. They take care of others before themselves, they work long hours, and they work hard… It’s our turn to show up for them.”

The public health situation is so fluid that it is hard to know what will happen, but it is a certainty that the local restaurant industry will feel this disruption in profound ways. 

Do you know of local efforts to support restaurant and hospitality workers? Please let our newsroom know at cwoods@cvilletomorrow.org.

Charlottesville Tomorrow Executive Director Giles Morris contributed to this reporting.