A line in the sand has been drawn as the debate heats up over a Corry bakery that reopened dine-in service for patrons earlier this week.
Some citizens have started rallying behind Kneadful Things Bakery and Cafe, 425 N. Center St., while others oppose its reopening as county and state government officials are urging compliance from restaurants offering dine-in services in defiance of Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive order to close businesses to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The parking lot of Kneadful Things was consistently filled on Friday as people came to show their support for its owner, Stephanie Smith, who began allowing up to 25 patrons to eat inside the cafe on Monday despite restaurants being limited to takeout and delivery only per Wolf's order.
Six men traveled from Cochranton and were among those outside the restaurant on Friday waiting for their turn to be seated.
The Crawford County residents said they heard about the story online and came to show support for the bakery's owner because it's the American thing to do.
"We don't believe it's right that you can force people to do something that they can't do or that is going to force their business into harm's way," Steve Kurtz said.
The general consensus of the group was the governor's order to close businesses went too far and more owners should open up their shops.
"It's definitely government overreach and unconstitutional, no question about it," Jon Gingerich said.
"We think more people should open up," John Kurtz added.
A group of locals was also seen outside of the bakery on Friday for a prayer circle.
Jill Webb, of Corry, woke up at 3 a.m. Friday morning with an idea from Lord to have a prayer circle for the bakery outside the business. Instead of carrying guns or weapons, Webb said she came equipped with something more powerful — prayer.
"It was laid on my heart at 3 a.m. that this is what I should do, and instead of using guns or weapons, we're going to use prayer," Webb said. "I put it out there to my friends and they all backed me."
The group prayed for the protection of the business, its owner and that she doesn't have her license revoked. The group also prayed for the Corry community, the class of 2020, elderly residents and for COVID-19 to go away.
"Also, I'm a mother of a senior [student]. I kind of felt like He wanted me to stop wallowing in my own self pity and think of something else," she said.
Jennifer Drake, a participant in the prayer circle, said, "The government shouldn't be deciding what we do."
A reporter asked Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper about Kneadful Things permitting customers to eat inside its dining room during her daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday afternoon.
"We're very aware of the situation and that situation is now in the hands of the legal team at the county," Dahlkemper said. "Also to that point, the state Department of Agriculture just this afternoon put out some new guidelines regarding restaurant enforcement actions and urging compliance."
Dahlkemper then read a bulleted list of actions that will be taken by the Department of Agriculture once food safety inspectors confirm reports of restaurants offering dine-in service in violation of the order, which are:
• Warning letter from the Departments of Agriculture and Health.
• Follow up inspection.
• If still in violation of the order at follow up inspection, adjudication to suspend the businesses retail food license.
• If the business continues to operate after license is revoked, citations will be filed with the magisterial district judge.
• The department may pursue civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day of violation.
"Those are all possibilities," Dahlkemper said. "We'll wait and see what happens, but we're going to obviously continue to look at this from a legal standpoint and would hope that everyone would try to do the right thing for the community."
Smith said she's not going to stop what she's doing despite the Department of Agriculture urging compliance through its release of enforcement actions.
"I think it's just plain manipulation," Smith said. "They're trying to push us into socialism and I'm not having it."
Dahlkemper mentioned Thursday that Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman has reminded businesses owners that they are risking their business insurance policy coverage if they defy the business closure order, according to a press release.
"The county solicitor has sent the owner of the restaurant in Corry a letter explaining the governor's order, explaining all of the guidance that we have received, explaining the issues around the insurance liability concerns," Dahlkemper said during her Friday briefing.
Smith believes if she's paying her insurance premiums, then she should be covered regardless if she's offering dine-in service.
"If my insurance premiums are up to date, then I have insurance," Smith said. "If I were speeding and got into a car accident, my car insurance would still pay, even though I was speeding, because I pay for my insurance. If I stole a car and got into an accident, then it doesn't because that's illegal. I'm not doing anything illegal. There is no law that says I can't have my dining room open."
Smith stated she has received a call from another local restaurant owner who is debating whether or not to reopen for dine-in service.
"The more people that do it, the easier it'll be for all of us," she said.