Another Wave of Business Closures Devastates the Suffering Restaurant Industry
Lawmakers from California to Washington, D.C., are still busy dining out and socializing, even as that option disappears for more and more ordinary Americans.
Prompted by a rise in coronavirus cases, the country’s mayors and governors are imposing new restrictions on bars and restaurants, including curfews and the forced shuttering of indoor dining rooms. These are yet another setback for businesses that already went through one prolonged shutdown in the spring, and that are now heading into winter without knowing when they’ll be able to serve customers inside again.
“My first reaction probably contains some expletives in my head,” says Anthony Hansen Mairs, a manager of the distillery Crater Lake Spirits in Bend, Oregon, when reacting to a Friday public health order from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) banning bars and restaurants from serving customers onsite for at least the next two weeks. Instead, they’ll be limited to offering takeout and delivery.
The order means Crater Lake Spirit’s tasting room—which had already been closed for a couple of months earlier this year—will have to shut down again.
Hansen Mairs says that he is hoping to keep his tasting room team of 12 paid during the two-week shutdown and that the production side of the distillery has enough work to keep them employed at least through the end of the year.
The closure of the tasting room comes with costs for the company’s workers who relied on tips they earned serving drinks there. “There are some nights where I might make $80 in my wage and $120 in tips. That’s not always how it is, but it’s a good portion of the income from that job,” says Ross Orndorff, one of the tasting room staff. (Disclosure: Orndorff is a former roommate of mine). Working on the distillery’s production line comes with more predictable hours, but won’t make up for all that lost income, Orndorff says.
“There’s still the air of doubt that this will only be two weeks,” adds Hansen Mairs, telling Reason that the longer the shutdown goes on, the more likely it is that they’ll have to lay off some employees.
Other bars and restaurants that don’t have a distillery business to fall back on are in much worse shape.
“We were already hearing from members they were concerned about what another shutdown would do to their chances of staying open,” said Jason Brandt, president and CEO of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association (ORLA), in a press release criticizing Brown’s order. “This latest round of regulations focused on restaurants will trigger an unknown amount of permanent closures impacting the livelihoods of thousands of Oregon families.”
That economic pain is likely to be replicated across the country as more and more places return to the lockdown policies from earlier in the pandemic.
On Monday, Philadelphia issued a new public health order closing down indoor dining, alongside gyms and movie theaters. Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) ordered bars and restaurants in the state to close at 10 p.m. as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) mandated that eating and drinking establishments stop serving alcohol by 10 p.m. and close by midnight.
The most dramatic rollback of business reopenings is happening in California. As of Monday, climbing case numbers have forced most counties into the most restrictive tier in the state’s four-tiered reopening scheme. That means bars and indoor dining rooms in most parts of the state will have to close.
San Francisco has been ahead of the curve in reinstituting business closures. Last week, Mayor London Breed issued an order requiring all indo
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