UPDATE: This article uses statistics current to the time of publication. For the most up-to-date statistics on the Coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, visit coronavirus.wa.gov.
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Business owners around the area, in response to social distancing policies announced by the governor to stem the tide of Covid-19, are shuttering doors and adapting their business models around a new way of life for Washingtonians.
Owners immediately began feeling the impacts after Gov. Jay Inslee last week announced the two-week closure of restaurants, bars, salons and other businesses which allow for on-site consumption.
Many owners have adjusted and are continuing to provide food for takeout and delivery only. On the ground, some owners say they feel like they are in a waiting pattern. Sarah Morton-Erasmus, owner of both Pioneer Pizza and Henni’s in White Salmon said how long the shutdown lasts will determine the restaurants’ fates.
Morton-Erasmus said she had to shut Henni’s down, and that she, her husband and one cook are working to keep Pioneer Pizza open, offering takeout seven days a week. Morton-Erasmus said they laid off 37 employees to manage but are wishful that the order doesn’t last long, so they can reopen Henni’s in time before it gets too expensive.
“We felt consolidating our resources was our only option at this time... In a situation where this is more than 4 weeks, and if [Pioneer Pizza] does not bring in enough revenue, both restaurants will shutter permanently,” Morton-Erasmus said.
“We are applying for aid and financial relief, so hopefully something comes of that,” Morton-Erasmus said. “At this point, we just don’t know.”
Across the street, a similar tone can be heard from Jenessa Vandehey, owner of Feast Market, who said she and husband Shawn had to lay off 11 employees and cut another’s hours in half.
“Shawn and I are doing everything we can to keep our doors open for take-out while keeping our staff and our community safe. We are going above and beyond with our cleanliness and safety,” Vandehey said.
Vandehey said she and her husband “have seen a major decrease in business due to the Coronavirus outbreak,” a note that rhymed with something Dianne Murphy, owner of Chips Bar and Grill in Bingen, said. Both Feast Market and Chips Bar and Grill are offering takeout.
“The community has been kind and trying to support as much as they can but with so many laid off it has been hard on everyone,” Murphy said. “We are going down with our ship.”
As did the owners of Pioneer Pizza and Feast Market, Murphy had to lay off her employees to stay above water.
The picture is bleak for an area typically abounding with restaurants and other types of service establishments. What it isn’t, however, is an anomaly.
Across the state and nationwide, people are feeling the effects of much of the primarily service-oriented labor market shutting down in an instant. Officials from the Washington State Employment Security Division released stark numbers a few days ago which seem to help measure the economic impact of the outbreak we are seeing firsthand: For example, in the week of March 8-14, officials saw a 150% increase in claims filed and were experiencing an even more dramatic increase the week following, Commissioner Suzi Levine presented in a Mar. 18 press release. Levine also said the website recorded 500,000 visitors in a two-day period where it would normally record around 30,000.
Perhaps some of the data they presented is due to recent changes in the rules which allows for more flexibility in the state’s unemployment insurance program. Inslee announced last week the state will be waiving the one-week waiting period for filing unemployment claims. He also announced a 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions, a utility rate-paying assistance program, grants for small businesses and other emergency measures in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The actions follow a cascade of emergency measures handed out by officials across the country in an attempt to tackle the world pandemic – a disease that has claimed the lives of 95 Washingtonians and infected 1996 others across the state, including four here in Klickitat County.