Facing the unknown

Valley businesses grapple with uncertainty in face of COVID-19 in Wyoming

Series: COVID-19 | Story 6

At the moment, the possible health impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on Wyoming appear to be relatively minimal. Following the weekend, the Wyoming Department of Health confirmed 10 cases of the virus. As the virus makes its way across the country, however, a number of states and metropolitan areas have ordered bars and restaurants to close in an effort to promote social distancing.

On Monday afternoon, the mayor of Denver announced that all bars and restaurants were to be shut down for a period of eight weeks. Similar efforts have been taken by at least eight states, many of them going to the end of March. Washington State, New York and New Jersey have allowed such businesses to offer take-out or delivery options.

While there has been no such declaration from Governor Mark Gordon or from county or municipal leaders, the current events are on the minds of local business owners.

“If next week the governor says, ‘Well, yeah, Wyoming we’re going to close restaurants’ we’re going to have to get creative,” said Margaret Weber, owner of the Bear Trap Cafe and Bar in Riverside. “Two or three weeks with zero revenue and still having bills will ruin hundreds of thousands of restaurants, guaranteed. Especially if there’s no plan of assistance or plan to help the hospitality industry as a whole.”

For a location like the Valley, the possibility of having to limit business or even shut down a business couldn’t come at a worse time. While the area gets a decent amount of financial support in the winter due to snowmobilers and other winter tourists, the true busy time comes in the summer.

“Us being a tourist town, we count on travelers and we count on our locals to support us. It’s already slow this time of year,” said Marie Christen, owner of Sweet Marie’s Bakeshop in Saratoga. “We all work by such close margins so, I mean, what do you do?”

While there is certainly concern about the business aspect with the local restaurants, the larger concern appears to be providing enough work and a paycheck for employees.

“I do worry about the business that is Firewater but I worry more about my employees than anything and the ones that need their paychecks every two weeks and they need those tips to get done what they need to get done,” said Danny Burau, owner of Firewater Public House in Saratoga.

That same concern extends from the hospitality industry to retail as Adam Clarke, manager of Valley Foods, has begun to think about what would need to be done to aid his employees.

“My number one thing would be I’d take care of my employees. I can’t run this place by myself, so you do whatever you can to make sure their bills are paid and they’re able to stay in the Valley. There’s certain things we could do, like our typical summertime bonuses, we could do that early,” said Clarke. “We’ll keep them afloat.”

As the uncertainty of what each day is going to hold in the development of COVID-19, the small business owners of the Valley are having to come up with potential contingency plans. For restaurants, this includes closing dine-in services and only offering take-out or delivery. This is something that, as of Monday evening, both The Grumpy Italian and Bella’s Bistro made the decision to do.

“The Grumpy Italian will have to close its table service dining in. Due to COVID-19, we will only be taking to-go orders over the phone with credit card payment,” wrote Eden Deorion on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “Delivery is available for now … please continue in supporting your Valley eateries.”

“As the saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry. In this time of great uncertainty, we have made the difficult decision to err on the side of safety. Nothing is more important to Tommy and I than the health and wellbeing of our family, our wonderful employees and our community,” wrote Cassie Orduno, co-owner of Bella’s Bistro. “In light of recent recommendations made by the White House, as well as local school and government closures, Bella’s Bistro has decided to likewise close our dining room temporarily. Instead, we will be offering delivery and curbside pickup starting on Wednesday.”

With the orders from state governments elsewhere for businesses within the service industry to shut down, there is some frustration expressed at the involvement by the government in private business. Especially as there appears to be no relief for the people who will, undoubtedly, be without work for a minimum of weeks.

“There’s been zero talk of subsidies for restaurant owners or for these minimum wage employees or for tipped employees other than, ‘Oh yeah, you can file for unemployment’ and I can file for a SBA disaster loan. What does that do? It puts me more in the hole,” Weber said. “It’s funny to me that the stock market goes down and $1.5 trillion comes out of nowhere for a half-hour blip of increase with zero discussion about how that’s going to be paid for but you shut down an entire industry with millions of workers and there’s zero talk about help. I don’t understand that.”

“This is a time, if the government’s going to take a stance and shut down private industry, now’s the time they can involve themselves in private industry and help. I’m a fairly limited-government type guy but if you’re going to swoop in and shut things down, now’s the time you can help. This is protecting citizens,” Burau said. “That’s their goal but protecting citizens also means making sure they can eat and pay electric bills and pay rent.”

As of yet, no direction has come from either the state or local governments dictating the closure or limited activity of businesses in the area. While it is, obviously, on the minds of small business owners, they are working to do their best to face each day as it comes.

“We’re just going to order basic necessities, basic things to run the shop, just so we can make sure we have money to pay everybody,” Christen said. “We’ll be here. We’ll have people’s coffee.”

“I can’t stop living my life and doing what needs to be done and, until I am told ‘You have to stop’ I’m going to keep my head down and keep going because I have to,” said Weber. “I have employees that I need to take care of.”


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