‘All they want is their jobs’: As acting mayor announces new emergency order, Anchorage restaurateurs say they feel targeted

Municipal officials maintain the order, which includes several changes to business operations within the municipality, was necessary
Published: Nov. 26, 2020 at 6:38 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - While the Municipality of Anchorage maintains the emergency order announced Wednesday is a necessity, not everyone is buying it, including restaurant owners across town.

“We’ve done everything the city has asked us to, and our response is, 32 of you have lost your jobs again,” said Ron Eagley, who owns Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant in Spenard. “This place isn’t full. We seat 200 people. If I have 25 in here anymore, it’s a huge, huge thing.”

Most Anchorage restaurants, like Gwennie’s, are already quieter than usual if open at all. Come Monday, they’ll all be just about empty following the release of Municipal Emergency Order 16, which puts Anchorage back into a hunker-down mode and blocks bars and restaurants from any dine- or drink-in service.

The full text of the emergency order includes numerous changes to current policy: Indoor gatherings are now limited to six people, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 10; gyms are limited to 25 percent capacity, as are retail and public-facing businesses such as salons; indoor organized and competitive sports are banned. Public spaces such as bingo halls and movie theaters are to be closed for the duration of the order.

Bars and restaurants are not allowed any dine-in services, only take out and delivery orders. The changes are to go into effect at 8 a.m. on Dec. 1 and stay active until Jan. 1 at 8 a.m.

“I just don’t understand closing our industry down and singling this industry out,” Eagley said. “You can still get your hair cut. You can still go to the salon. Twenty-five percent can still go to the gym. So until you can show me the hard facts that closing us down and laying off my 32 employees is going to change this situation at all, I’m not really in favor of it.”

Alaska’s News Source asked during a municipal press conference Wednesday if the officials had any data about confirmed cases being linked specifically to bars and restaurants as compared to other places.

“Unfortunately, we’re operating in a data-poor environment in general,” said Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, “but what we know about the virus is transmission rates go up when you’re inside and not wearing a mask.”

Dr. Janet Johnston, of the Anchorage Health Department, pointed to widespread transmission in the community as being a cause for concern, a trigger of the sprawling order and a reason as to why contact tracing, in general, has become so challenging.

“It’s difficult here and across the country to say exactly where transmission is occurring,” she said. “However there are a variety of studies that show restaurants, with people taking off masks, being in close proximity, being there for an extended period of time, are the highest locations.”

One of several owners of 907 Alehouse, who had broken the news of an impending municipal order to staff last week after rumors began circulating in the community, said even with a little bit of advanced notice, the mandate to close local restaurants is a painful one.

“We’re upset,” said Robert Kilby. “We’re just disappointed. We’ve tried to do everything that we can to follow any mandates, any rules, and it just seems like we’re being singled out, and the industry is being targeted.

“907 Alehouse is going to survive,” he added. “We were prepared for this, and we’ve been planning for this. But we know just from the last lockdown that we’re going to be doing 15% to 20% of the sales that we were doing, which means we’re going to continue to have 20 percent of our staff [...] That’s a lot of people that we’re scared for.”

Alaska Hospitality Retailers’ Executive Director Silvia Villamides declined to comment Wednesday, saying only that she needed time to work through the order with members of AHR, a group representing many of Alaska’s hospitality, foodservice and tourism entities.

In addition to the proprietors at Gwennie’s and 907 Alehouse, many other business owners have also said they’ll have to drastically cut their staff numbers across the board. The owner of Kriner’s Diner said he’ll likely keep just one of his five dishwashers, for example, while the owner of SteamDot Coffee Roasters is worried the next closure could present worse consequences.

“The holidays is when a vast majority of small businesses make their year,” said SteamDot Owner Jonathan White, “because the shoulder season in January and February are notoriously slow. So to cut the legs out on that season, it’s going to be difficult.”

Eagley, who’s owned and operated his restaurant for nearly 40 years now, said he’ll survive and believes his restaurant will too, but he isn’t so sure about his beloved staff.

“Let my employees go back to work,” he said. “They’re proud people. All they want is their jobs. They don’t want unemployment. They don’t want anything else. They just want to go to work and have their job. That’s why they came back twice.

“We’re doing things for the vulnerable,” he added. “Now we just might’ve made 2,000 more people vulnerable. Now, do you care about them?”

Dave Leval contributed to this report.

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