For Sam Gross, owner of Loggers Tap House in Roseburg, the restrictions on his restaurant related to COVID-19 have been hard to handle, but he thought he had finally found a workable formula.
Then came the news this week that the rules would be changing yet again, and instead of being allowed 250 to have people in the restaurant at any one time, Loggers would have to cut back to 100. That means Gross has to quickly re-calculate seating, staffing and other aspects of his operation.
Matt Lund, interim executive director of the YMCA of Douglas County, has his own calculations to undertake. Membership was already down more than 50% and the South County YMCA had recently been closed. Then Lund learned that beginning Friday the new regulations required YMCA members to wear masks indoors, even while working out.
Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of trying to run a business amid the shifting rules surrounding COVID-19.
And following a recent spike in cases locally and statewide — with projections for even bigger increases to come — expect more uncertainty for tomorrow’s business landscape.
“It is difficult to try and be in compliance with ever-changing rules, but we stay on top of it,” Gross said. “The hardest part is that it becomes the job of my hosts and servers to implement the rules of the governor. Some customers are more understanding than others.”
No two businesses have handled COVID-19, and the restrictions that come with it, alike.
Some have tried to steady the ship by simply reigning in their business activities — cutting back hours of operations, services offered and staffing, for example. Others have made dramatic changes — the owner of five McDonald’s in Douglas County, for example, closed them for dine-in service in March and has not reopened, instead of focusing on drive-thru and delivery service.
Patti Sanders, who owns seven McDonald’s in Eugene in addition to the five in Douglas County, said that in early July the McDonald’s corporation put a 21-day hold on any dine-in openings due to an increase in COVID-19 cases across the country. Even after that hold was lifted this week, most McDonald’s remain closed for dine-in, Sanders said.
“I don’t anticipate opening ours throughout the summer,” she said. “I’m aware of a few in Oregon that have opened and I’ve been by the Eugene competitor who’s open, however, there is minimal usage for dining in. Surveys I’ve read show a lot of people are not ready to do so when they have other options like drive-thru, curbside or delivery/takeout.”
Other business owners have gone back and forth. One Myrtle Creek restaurant, for example, opened to dine-in service, then closed to dine-in when the state-mandated masks be worn, then reopened a week later.
Still, others have decided to simply close up shop and not reopen at least until the COVID dust settles, if ever.
A difficult timeThe worldwide coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in a century, so it is understandable that the reaction to it, including restrictions put on commerce to stop the virus’ spread, would be somewhat unpredictable, if not downright chaotic.
The changing set of rules dating back to mid-March, when Gov. Kate Brown announced new statewide mandates that banned public gatherings of 25 or more people and restricted restaurants and bars to take-out or delivery service.
About a week later Brown mandated a stay-at-home policy and ordered the closure of a broad swath of businesses where close contact was hard to avoid, including arcades, barbershops, hair salons, gyms and fitness studios, skating rinks, theaters, and yoga studios.
In mid-May, with daily cases of COVID-19 statewide averaging well below 100 a day, Douglas County entered Phase 1 of a reopening plan. Restaurants were allowed to resume dine-in service and many other businesses, such as salons and gyms, reopened.
On June 5, Douglas County was granted Phase 2 status by the state. That allowed bars and restaurants to stay open until midnight; movie theaters, bowling alleys, and arcades to reopen; some recreational sports to resume; and other easing of COVID-related restrictions.
But on July 1, with COVID-19 infection levels inching back up, masks were required to be worn in indoor public spaces, including retail businesses.
And on Friday, following a spike in COVID-19 cases, a stricter set of rules were put in place. Those included the requirement that masks be worn in gyms; restaurants and bars close at 10 p.m.; and indoor gatherings, including in restaurants and other businesses, could not exceed 100 people.
For Gross, owner of Loggers Tap House, the limit of 100 people in his expansive restaurant is a tough pill to swallow.
“We seat about 200, so this will be hard for our Friday and Saturday nights,” Gross said. “And that 100 includes the staff as well, so if I have 20 people working on a Friday night that limits me to 80 customers. So now I have to try to figure out how many people it takes to serve 80 customers at a time plus, takeout and delivery.”
For Lund and the YMCA, the new restrictions are likely to further impact a program that was already reeling.
On July 2 — a day after a new round of COVID-19 restrictions were implemented by the state — Lund announced that the South County YMCA in Canyonville was closing permanently. Ongoing losses there — made worse by its COVID-related closure in mid-March — had been subsidized by the YMCA of Douglas County. But with revenues at that facility cratering, those subsidies were no longer feasible, Lund said.
Then Lund learned the YMCA would be facing another set of challenges, including the cap of 100 people and the new requirement that customers wear masks while working out. Lund said the YMCA is learning and adjusting with each new set of regulations, but the one constant is the agency’s reliance on community support to survive.
“This is a difficult time for everyone and the Y understands that. We are learning every day and have to adjust to all of our members’ needs and safety,” Lund said. “The pandemic has hit our community hard and we must all come together so we can all thrive and flourish.”
An eye toward touristsDrive around Douglas County and it is difficult to find a business that has not been hit hard by the restrictions put in place to combat COVID-19.
And even those businesses that had a flash of hope when they were allowed to reopen in mid-June now have a new set of onerous restrictions to deal with.
Roseburg Cinema, for example, closed in mid-March due to the pandemic, then opened to great fanfare — and long lines — three months later.
However, Hollywood stopped making movies due to COVID-19, meaning Roseburg Cinema was left to show reruns to stay open. It has done so, but at a cost.
On a recent weekday afternoon there were about a dozen cars in the parking lot. Patrons paid $5 to see dated movies, including Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan.
Roseburg Cinema Manager Davies said his hands are tied.
“Most film release dates have continued to be pushed back,” he said. “As such, it does not look like there will be new releases in the immediate future.”
Even those handful of businesses that are doing OK now are keeping a wary eye on Salem, and the possibility of more restrictions that may come.
Allen Pike, general manager of Hampton Inn & Suites in Roseburg, said business has remained solid despite the COVID restrictions. But he is far from comfortable, or complacent.
This week Gov. Brown said she is considering limiting tourism from other states, especially people coming from coronavirus hotspots. The idea of mandating some out-of-state visitors to undergo mandatory quarantine has also been floated.
Such talk concerns Pike.
“A lot of our business comes from California and Washington, so if there are any border closures, that would certainly impact tourism.”