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SPIGOLON: Don’t let businesses fade away
Porterdale Mill
Porterdale Mill - photo by Tom Spigolon

One of the most heartening bits of news I’ve heard lately amid the continuing pandemic is the lift customers gave a legendary metro Atlanta small business when it appeared it would close.

Brian Maloof , the owner of Manuel’s restaurant and tavern in Atlanta, gave the bleak details about his business' impending closing in a Dec. 3 Facebook post. 

He wrote about the longtime gathering spot failing to survive amidst a pandemic that can only be solved by people not gathering:

“Since March Manuel’s has had an average reduction in sales of 62% per month. We have been spending cash reserves to make up the average $25,000 a month shortage. Currently, we have no more reserves. Without a cash injection, we will be forced to close for good. 

“The operational plan put in place in March was to make Manuel’s super COVID safe, cut all costs, expand the to-go business, be open only during our most profitable hours, reduce labor costs, retain employees, and get to the end of the pandemic.

“Along the way, we applied for and received our PPP loan. We used the PPP funds wisely and productively but they are now gone.”

Maloof had grown up in the small business located near Atlanta’s famous Little Five Points retail area. His father, who was a DeKalb County political leader, and uncle opened it in 1956.

One longtime customer described it as, “A welcoming watering hole and meeting hall for artists, lawyers, carpenters, academics, police, actors and activists.”

It’s a place where people have regularly held wedding receptions, or authors have read from their new books. Politicians of all stripes have given their victory speeches there on election nights.

A longtime customer set up a GoFundMe page, hardly expecting the public to cough up the minimum of $75,000 Maloof needed to pay for his liquor license and insurance to remain open past Dec. 31. 

To date, more than 2,900 individuals have pledged $178,000 in donations simply to keep a neighborhood bar and restaurant from going dark.

Manuel’s may not be similar in clientele to businesses that make up the historic fabric of Newton County. 

But the question is: Are there businesses in or near Newton County that should never go away, even if you have to donate the few extra dollars you can spare to keep them afloat?

Most towns have something similar — businesses that have been around in some form since before you were born; that have ALWAYS been there and you believe will never, or should never, disappear.

It may be where your uncle worked all his life, or where your father met your mother. It’s the “meat and three” restaurant on the downtown square where your family liked to go for dinner on Friday nights when you were young.

What if the Old Mill in Porterdale had not been converted to lofts? They may no longer grace the eastern bank of the Yellow River if a developer had not taken on the task of converting the former clothing factory.

How about some of the iconic restaurants around the Covington Square? 

This economic downturn that a virus — and not the normal economic cycle — brought about has affected businesses and institutions like nothing in most people’s memories.

It forced restaurants to lay off entire wait staffs and only offer to-go orders. Most churches didn’t have large crowds from March until September or October, depriving church-goers of the fellowship of choir-accompanied church gatherings and Sunday school — and churches of needed revenue.

Newton Countians need to be ready to help out small businesses as they maneuver through the ebbs and flows of the state government’s efforts to balance people’s livelihoods with the public’s safety during the pandemic.

They may need your help before they fade away and become only a nice memory your children will never share.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at