Community helps family-owned South Philly pretzel shop stay afloat amid COVID-19 pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- For almost 40 years, Center City Pretzel Co. has served the community and neighboring tri-state area.

But now, the family-owned business is struggling to keep operations afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Dad started this almost 40 years ago, and never knowing that it was ever going to become the icon of Philadelphia...it has just been an amazing journey to see," said Erika Tonelli-Bonnett, who is the general and account manager for Center City Pretzel Co. "Even the bumps and the bruises that the business has taken, but how we are tenacious, and we just keep coming back."

Tonelli-Bonnet has spent the last 15 years holding down the fort for the family after her father Tony Tonelli, who founded the pretzel operation in 1981, retired and moved down to Florida roughly four years ago.

But like many small businesses this year, the pandemic has left significant impacts on businesses overall.

"COVID hit in March, and that's when we closed almost for four months," said Tonelli-Bonnet. "But while we came back, our vendors, our schools, our hospitals, our walk-in business did not."

Tonelli-Bonnet says the store is down roughly 80% in revenue, but the community has stepped in to help, raising over $10,000 in under a week to help keep the Center City Pretzel Company's legacy alive.

"The stories of people coming out saying, 'you were there for my wedding, you were there for my child's first birthday, you were there for bar and bat mitzvahs, and you're the best. We can't lose you because you're a staple to the city.'"

Tonelli-Bonnet says she was blown away by the response as she just looked at the pretzel shop as an old little bakery along Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia.

While business survival changes day by day, Tonelli-Bonnet's message for the public is simple.

"As a small business, I think it is so important for the community to remember we're here," she said. "Everybody talks about Philadelphia being this rough and tumble city...I have never seen so much support in my life from Philadelphia and Pennsylvanians, especially in South Philly."

Tonelli-Bonnet encourages everyone to support their local small business shops, as she believes they are the backbone, not just of Philadelphia but in other cities across the country.
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