Mandy Arnold has heard about insurers asking urban businesses to board up windows in case of civil unrest over the 2020 election results.
But as voting unfolded on Tuesday afternoon, Arnold had no plans to put up plywood at the restaurant she and her husband, Sean, own in downtown York, Pa., about two hours west of Philadelphia.
“I’d rather pay for a new window than have my community think I don’t believe in them,” said Arnold, who also owns a public relations agency and a real estate development firm.
It hasn’t always been easy to believe in York, a town of just under 44,000 people in south-central Pennsylvania. Like many urban areas, York has lost jobs, businesses and people to surrounding suburbs over the last few decades. But recently the city has scraped together something of a renaissance, with new restaurants, breweries and shops opening in its downtown.
The Arnolds, who live in the city, own one of York’s older restaurants, The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar, a fine-dining establishment they bought in 2017. Mandy Arnold started her PR firm, Gavin, in 2011 and focuses on crisis communications. The development company, Madison & Main Development, followed in 2015. Both are based in York, though the PR agency has satellite offices in nearby cities of Lancaster and Harrisburg. Altogether the businesses have a combined annual revenue of just over $6 million, she said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has threatened York’s progress, Arnold said, and she worries about the future.
“If our storefronts do not come back, our restaurants and our small retail, it’s really going to be hard for downtowns, especially for Main Streets,” she said.
Arnold also worries about Left Bank employees who have not been able to work and are running out of unemployment benefits. “We’re very concerned,” she said.
The Left Bank closed early in the pandemic ahead of government orders, Arnold said, based on what she was hearing from PR clients with overseas operations. Gavin, meanwhile, sent its 20-plus employees to work from home.
The restaurant, which employs about 31 people, reopened on a limited basis in late June after the city closed its block to traffic on summer weekends, allowing for outdoor dining. The closures have been extended through the end of 2020, Arnold said.
She doesn’t expect any outside diners from January to March but is advocating for street closures to resume indefinitely in the spring. Restaurants and other businesses could work together to put on live music or other entertainment to bring people downtown.
“We’re hopeful that our city will get on board with it as well,” she said.
Beyond the restaurant’s future, she is concerned about the overall perception of cities, even smaller ones. Rhetoric at the national level has painted urban areas as zones of anarchy and lawlessness.
“I think it absolutely filters down,” said Arnold.
She considers York a safe place but some people asked if she and her husband were going to board up their restaurant when protests were held in the city following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. While there was extensive damage to storefronts in larger cities – and York experienced race riots in 1969 – York’s protests this summer unfolded peacefully, Mandy Arnold said.
“They instantly assumed that because we were in the city, that this violence would happen,” she said. “And we said, ‘Absolutely not.’ We want to show our community we believe in them.”
Instead of plywood, the Arnolds put up a Black Lives Matter sign. York is about 25.8% Black, according to the U.S. Census. The surrounding county is predominantly white.
The couple did hear some negative feedback, she said. But the response was mostly positive.
“It was very important to say that we do support this and we’re part of the community,” Arnold said.
Arnold voted ahead of election day – and had to wait in line anyway to drop off her ballot – but she declined to say for whom.
“What I will say is that financial stability is very important,” she said. “I would say I am fiscally conservative. But when it comes to human and civil liberties, I am very liberal.”
She said she was looking for a national leader who could bring the country together and create a more stable business environment, including short-term aid to help small businesses weather the pandemic, followed by policies creating a climate for future investment. Shel also sees a need for national leaders to address systemic racism in the U.S.
“I’ve always been a bit of a business hustler. I will work hard,” she said. “But I need a stable environment to work in, a safe and stable environment, where there’s a level of predictability.”