‘We are fighting a losing battle’: Local businesses struggle amid COVID-19 outbreak

- Idaho Press

Saltzer Health

Estera “Esti” Stanciu usually tries to take one big trip a year. It’s not always easy on a bartender’s salary, but she’s been saving for it. Now she’s worried about using that money to make mortgage payments on her now house instead.

Stancui a bartender at Neurolux in downtown Boise, and she believes the bar will have to close soon due to concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus. She said she and many others who work in the service industry are anticipating layoffs.

“It’s in the back of all our minds, that this is going to happen,” Stanciu said Tuesday.

Concerns about the novel coronavirus’ spread have caused large swaths of society to grind to a halt across the country in recent weeks. On Monday, six of California’s Bay Area counties were ordered to shelter in place, meaning more than 6.7 million have been directed not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. That same day, President Donald Trump advised people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, and specifically said to avoid bars and restaurants. The governors of ColoradoOregon and Washington ordered the closure of bars and restaurants for a month beginning Tuesday as well — on St. Patrick’s Day, normally a chance for those in the service industry to collect on tips and log hours.

“I just bought a house in November, and I’m so nervous that I’m not going to be able to make my mortgage payments,” Stanciu said. “Even just taking a week or two off to go on a trip has a huge impact on … the ability to make ends meet.”

[GetLocal: Local Idaho businesses you can support online or over the phone]

‘They felt bad’

As of Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Brad Little has not made the same order in Idaho. Stanciu said she believes such an order isn’t far away. She’s still been going to work because she has to, washing her hands so much she has to put a salve on them at night.

But she’s seeing fewer and fewer customers, and she understands why. She estimated there were roughly five people in the bar last night, and she sent one of them home — a 70-year-old regular customer — out of concern for the woman’s health.

“The five people that were in the bar last night can’t be expected to tip as much as I would normally make … to make those ends meet for me,” Stanciu said. “People were overly tipping because they felt bad.”

Cole Calvin, who works as a server at Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge in downtown Boise, said he believes he’s washing his hands between 60 and 100 times per shift at work, but he, too, is afraid of his work closing for weeks. Many people in the service industry don’t have health insurance, he said. They’re trying to decide between paying bills or saving to buy insurance.

“That’s almost the staff of a restaurant,” he said of Trump’s advice against crowds of 10 or more people.

He believes, financially, he can weather the hardship he’s afraid is coming. He has some money saved up, and he has family nearby who can help. But not everyone in the industry is so lucky, he said.

Dave Krick, the owner of the Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Other options

According to the Bittercreek Alehouse Facebook page, the restaurant offered anything to go “from the regular menus of Bittercreek Alehouse, Diablo & Sons Saloon, or Red Feather Lounge to-go.”

“Just call the restaurant of your choice,” according to the post. “Starting Wednesday 3/18/20 (depending on what happens) you can expect to see a new, single To-Go menu from all of our restaurants that is simplified, featuring family style meals that are either fully prepared or cooked at home.”

To-go orders will have a minimum 15% gratuity, according to the post. That money will be split among the staff.

According to information posted in a COVID-19 Facebook mutual aid group, more than 80 Treasure Valley restaurants are providing to-go service. The information is rapidly changing, so the group recommends checking often.

Stanciu said she has heard rumors about a GoFundMe page raising money for the staff who lose money because of concerns about COVID-19, but nothing is certain yet. She said she plans to apply for aid from the United States Bartenders Guild, which has some emergency money available to people who cannot work because of the pandemic, but she isn’t planning on it being a significant amount.

“We will most likely be shutting down this week sometime,” Allen Ireland, the owner of Neurolux, wrote in an email message to the Idaho Press. “I’ve asked our employees to set up accounts with the Idaho Department of Labor to learn about their unemployment benefits. We’ve been paying unemployment insurance taxes for over 25 years without a claim. There has never been a better time to distribute those funds.”

Stanciu said she doesn’t believe the effects of the new coronavirus on the industry will be over in a matter of weeks; she feels it could be a month or more.

“That’s frightening for a lot of people,” she said.

Not enough

Paul Faucher, owner of Grit, an American food restaurant in Caldwell, said Tuesday that to-go orders won’t be enough to keep his restaurant afloat. Faucher said he would be meeting with restaurant managers and staff this week to discuss closing Grit for a few months.

“We are fighting a losing battle trying to keep our doors open in a situation that is unpredictable,” Faucher said.

Faucher started to see a decrease in customers last week, but he said Monday was by far the worst. He said on Monday, business “was poor at best.”

Faucher said relying only on to-go orders doesn’t work for Grit.

“We are too big of a restaurant to play the takeout game, it may work for smaller restaurants,” Faucher said.

He hopes to reopen the restaurant in a few months with the same staff it has now.

“It doesn’t make sense to risk our employees and customers,” Faucher said. “We just want to come out of this as unscathed as possible.”

‘Day by day’

Among the Canyon County restaurants trying to stay open on to-go orders are both Flying M Coffee Houses in Nampa and Caldwell. Both are reducing their hours and eliminating the option to dine in.

Shaun King, manager of Flying M in Nampa, said the coffee garage seating area will be closed, to discourage lingering customers.

King said the shorter hours will affect coffee shop employees’ hours, so King is trying to find other tasks around the shop for those that need extra hours, and asking people who don’t need as many hours to offer them to employees that need them.

Tori McKim, co-owner of Flying M in Caldwell, said the shop is offering customers a curbside pickup option where they call ahead and their coffee is brought to them.

McKim said she encourages people to purchase gift cards to the shop, which support the shop now and can be used for a coffee at a later date.

Bruce DeLaney, co-owner of Rediscovered Books in Boise and Caldwell, also encouraged people to purchase gift cards to support local businesses while they are distancing themselves.

DeLaney said the bookstore is also offering curbside pickup options.

“We have to take everything day by day and do what we can to take care of our customers and employees in a time of immense uncertainty,” DeLaney said.

Resources for workers affected by COVID-19 pandemic

UNEMPLOYMENT

Workers who find themselves unemployed due to a business closure that is temporary or permanent, through no fault of their own, may file a claim for unemployment benefits. To file a claim, people can go to the Idaho Department of Labor Website at labor.idaho.gov, under the Idaho Claimant Portal. To be eligible, the individual must be physically and mentally able and available for work at the time they file their claim.

OTHER OPTIONS

Many organizations are providing support for workers whose jobs will be affected by COVID-19:

  • The Restaurant Workers Community Foundation is operating a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, which will “direct money to organizations leading on-the-ground efforts in the restaurant community,” and help individual workers, according to the fund’s website.
  • One Fair Wage has also set up a coronavirus-specific fund to help tipped and service workers. “We’re providing cash assistance to restaurant workers, car service drivers, delivery workers, personal service workers and more who need the money they aren’t getting to survive,” according to the fund’s page.
  • The United States Bartenders Guild is offering emergency grants to bartenders. They, their spouses and their children can apply through the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program.

Eater.com has a comprehensive list of other organizations and available funds.

Saltzer Health

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