Pushing pause: Local business owners react to 2-week measure effective today

The parking lot is packed at Ogawa's Wicked Sushi, Burgers and Bowls on Tuesday evening, with some patrons picking up curbside and others opting to dine in for the last time for the next two weeks during Gov. Kate Brown's mandate to pause social activities.

ONTARIO

Today, Gov. Kate Brown’s two-week pause to prevent the spread of COVID-19 begins across the state of Oregon. The measure puts limits on social activities, which will again impact businesses, similar to restrictions placed in mid-March. The pause means restaurants and bars will have to once again close their doors to inside patrons. Takeout and delivery will still be allowed, however. There are many other restrictions, including that grocery stores and pharmacies are supposed to scale back capacity to 75%. And some businesses must close altogether, including gyms, gardens, museums and other facilities.

The newspaper checked in with local businesses to see how the pause will be impacting them.

Eateries plan to keep serving customers

Reactions are mixed among Ontario establishments, with most already having a good stronghold in curbside delivery, due to restrictions passed earlier this year.

One of those businesses includes Ogawa’s Wicked Sushi, Burgers and Bowls.

“Fortunately for us, we feel very blessed. We’ve been doing pretty well with the curbside process we set up, and we’re going to keep with that and serve the community in that manner as best as possible,” said Connie Houston, who owns the restaurant with her husband.

“It is a sad time to close down again and for the business next door [Kan Pai, a bar] to have to close to after they did reopen,” she said.

As with other eateries, the Houstons went through the shut down in March. And just when Brown allowed restaurants to reopen at 50% capacity in June, Ogawa’s was in the middle of a roof repair. It was only open for about four days before the roof started leaking due to rainstorms, and they had to close again.

But they weathered the storm and eventually reopened.

“I can’t complain,” Houston said. “I try to stay as positive as possible.”

Additionally, she says, they are working not to lay anybody off.

“Right now, we were actually shorthanded, with staff that left during the first round [of closures] that didn’t come back,” Houston said. “At this point, we are going to keep as many people on board, that is my ultimate goal.”

Jolts & Juice, a local coffee shop and eatery with a location near Walmart and in downtown Ontario, will also be making alterations in response to the state’s pause on fully reopening. Jordan Heinz, general manager, responded to request for comment in an email message received on Monday morning.

“At Jolts, we have always felt and have remained a safe place for customers. Even before this pandemic hit, we’ve had high expectations of maintaining a clean, sanitized and welcoming environment for our customers,” she wrote.

Heinz also said the restrictions will be affecting small businesses across the state.

“We will remain open for our customers to come in and place their orders,” Heinz wrote. “We will also make it easier to take their food and drinks to go. With the Holiday season fast approaching, we want our community to know we are a safe space to shop local. We are excited to bring in fun holiday gift items customers can shop while waiting.”

Starting today, the Plaza Inn will be will be offering takeout service from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. for at least two weeks of the freeze imposed by Gov. Kate Brown, according to owner Jason Jungling. The restaurant will be staffed by six people: two cooks, two dining room staff members, Jungling and his wife.

The Plaza will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Jungling said, but a Thanksgiving dinner will be the special on the Wednesday before.

Grocery stores say capacity not an issue

For those businesses that can stay open but must reduce capacity to 75%, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, some say the challenge is not capacity.

Kimmie Serrano, co-owner of Red Apple Marketplace in Ontario, said that space is not an issue for her grocery store.

“We aren’t even close to operating [capacity] at 100%. At 30,000 square feet, we have all kinds of capacity,” she said.

During the store’s annual sales which typically pull in large crowds, including the anniversary sale in February and another on July 3, Serrano said they might come “a little closer” to capacity.

As the two-week pause won’t have any impact, she said, “people can keep coming on in.”

At Oregon Natural Market, which has a smaller space, capacity is also not an issue.

Michael Chase, dietician, nutritionist and owner says since 2003, they haven’t had to worry about capacity. Business is steady, but people “just trickle in and out” throughout the day.

Noteworthy, however, is that the store is “busier than normal” during the pandemic.

“More people are thinking about their health and are generally interested in health,” Chase said. “We’re selling more products that support the immune system, and cold and flu products are selling really, really well.”

Additionally, the store has curbside delivery setup and Chase is looking to add online ordering sometime early next year.

“We’ve been doing curbside pickup since March and it’s working really well for us,” he said.

Inside the market, patrons must wear masks, are asked to sanitize their hands and

Pharmacy owner worries it may ‘kill every small business’

Others still are concerned with surviving the long-term effects of the pandemic.

Even at 75% capacity, Malheur Drug could still have up to 70 people in the store, however, right now, the store is “lucky to have five people at a time,” according to the owner.

“We’ve been slow for the last six months — I don’t think a pause is going to change anything,” said Adam Tolman, who has owned and managed Malheur Drug in Vale for the past eight years.

The store isn’t just pharmaceuticals — there are also sporting goods and other items, and as as a RadioShack store, shoppers can also find toys and electronics. But these days, people aren’t coming by for those items, he says, impacting the local economy.

“It’s just crap,” Tolman said. “People aren’t shopping because they’re being told not to shop.”

As far as curbside pickup from the store goes, it is available, but it’s strictly for pharmaceuticals.

“But three-quarters of my store is retail, and when nobody is shopping because the government says ‘Don’t,’ it’s terrible,” he said.

Compounding it further, Tolman said, is the issue of promoting those non-essential goods as “we’re not supposed to entice people outside their homes unless absolutely necessary,” Tolman said.

“That’s what’s crap. I understand it’s a bad disease, but you’re going to kill every small business there is,” he said.

Tolman added that he feels the government, in general, doesn’t seem to care.

“We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, while trying to combat the disease and stop the spread of infection,” he said.

The pharmacy side of things is keeping things steady, however, as it supports several larger clients throughout the area the nursing home, Valley Family Health Care and the Malheur County Jail, he said.

Due to this, the store would never close completely, but Tolman is concerned the state could impose further restrictions and the store could be forced to shut its retail operations down an only offer curbside.

Tolman employees nine people, and if he ended up closing it would mean 10 families without jobs.

“What do you want me to do?”

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