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Businesses prepare as possible restaurant closures loom

Restaurateurs, bar owners among those grappling with uncertain future
A bar counter at 907 Alehouse is empty of customers, while the dining rooms host dozens of...
A bar counter at 907 Alehouse is empty of customers, while the dining rooms host dozens of people. Nov. 18, 2020.(KTUU)
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 12:48 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Causing both concern and confusion for some business owners Wednesday was word that Anchorage could soon be facing yet another restrictive health mandate. While the city’s acting mayor said she doesn’t intend to take action this week, without any official announcement from the mayor’s office, many business owners have been left on edge waiting to see if an emergency closure order is actually on its way.

“If you’re a banker and you find out the bank is closed on Monday,” said 907 Alehouse Co-Owner Robert Kilby, “you just don’t go in. In a restaurant, it’s a lot different.”

Kilby is one of the restaurateurs who looked to take action as soon as word began to spread Wednesday afternoon about a possible health mandate in Anchorage once again shuttering bars and restaurants, and doing so within the next several days. The added concern began when businesses started receiving emails from the Alaska Hospitality Retailers, warning that the city was about to announce a new ban on restaurant dine-in services. The order was to go into effect this coming Monday and stay active for four weeks.

“About 2:30, we got a message, saying we’re going to be closed,” Kilby said. “It was going to be a 28-day lockdown. And we immediately got all of us together and started to make a plan. First thing was the crew: How are we going to take care of them? And then, what’re we going to do to stay open? Take out, carry out, delivery.”

About two hours after the initial word, Kilby said, his restaurant received another message that the closures would not happen for another week.

Silvia Villamides, of Alaska Hospitality Retailers, said over the phone late Wednesday afternoon that business owners are “devastated because it is a health issue and an economic issue, the perfect storm for our industry.” In a subsequent conversation that evening, she declined to comment specifically on the emails - those that indicated an impending restrictive order and then a delay to the schedule - that were said to be sent to AKHR members Wednesday.

Later the same evening, a statement from Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson in response to a request for comment from Alaska’s News Source said in part: “We do not want to impose tighter restrictions on the community. But without seeing improvement, we will have to act. We have been in discussions this week about what a potential emergency order would look like. I am not planning to take any action this week, but we are monitoring the situation closely. We will not allow our hospitals to become overrun.”

Quinn-Davidson did not specifically confirm whether or not an order, to originally take effect Monday, had been crafted.

For Kilby, the back and forth remains an especially frustrating part of it all, but he said that a week or more of preparation is much better than a few days. However, he said, there’s still much to improve upon.

“If they could be as transparent as possible,” he said of the municipality, “like, if we knew, ‘Hey, if the death rates get to this, if the hospitalizations get to this, cases get to this,’ and we knew so we could kind of get ahead of it. But every single time we’ve had any single lockdown, or mandates, we get the news on Friday, and then it’s happening on Monday.”

As of Wednesday night, the Coronavirus Response Hub for the Municipality of Anchorage showed 13,292 confirmed cases of COID-19 within the municipality, including 83 hospitalizations. Both adult non-ICU hospital bed capacity and adult ICU bed capacity were in the red category, with 399 of 504 and 59 of 73 in use, respectively. Ventilator capacity remains in the green zone, with 33 of 173 currently in use.

For now, Kilby and other business owners around town will have to stay prepared for just about anything.

“I don’t really know the tracking and how they figure out how a restaurant is more dangerous than a grocery store or Costco,” he said. “But we’re doing our part.”

In her prepared statement, the acting mayor also said the goal is to handle the public health crisis in the least restrictive way possible. She encouraged people to take the situation seriously by wearing masks, staying home and planning for a safe Thanksgiving celebration.

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