‘Trust us’: Local bar owner asks Anchorage Assembly, 4 days before EO-16 is set to expire

Owner Paul Berger sits inside of the Carousel Lounge, four days before the set expiration date...
Owner Paul Berger sits inside of the Carousel Lounge, four days before the set expiration date of municipal restrictions on allowing customers into bars and restaurants.(KTUU)
Published: Dec. 28, 2020 at 7:17 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Carousel Lounge has been present in Anchorage’s Spenard neighborhood in one form or another since 1967.

Owner Paul Berger sat at the corner of his bar on Monday morning, motioning around to each corner of the building.

“At the time, the bar was just this section over here and there was a watch shop over there. There dog grooming business over there, way back in the day,” he said. “This was your local, working-man’s after-work bar.”

The Carousel Lounge had a staff of 16 when before the pandemic began. Since then, it has employed five people during periods of time when the bar has been allowed to open.

In 2020, the Carousel’s sales have been down by 67% — but as a business owner who also manages 70 rental properties across Anchorage and the Mat-Su, Berger has grown more concerned about the struggles he has witnessed through his tenants and employees.

“Imagine you have three kids, they are not in school, you’ve got one job and you are a single mom,” he said. “You’re being asked to home-school your kids, put them in day care, pay rent, put food on the table and have a Christmas. It’s impossible.”

Berger says he has had tenants take their lives, and as recently as Thanksgiving Day, another tenant attempted to do so. Data from the Department of Health and Social Services indicates that there have been fewer deaths by intentional self-harm in 2020 than there were on average, in that same period, from 2017-2019. The number of suicide attempts and ideations resulting in emergency room visits has remained relatively consistent since 2018, according to a recent state bulletin on self-harm and overdoses.

While the state data does not clearly show an increase in suicides or attempts, Berger is still worried that the “human cost” of the closures has gotten higher as the pandemic has carried on for 10 months. With the current emergency orders set to expire on Friday, he hopes city leaders will trust business owners to reopen and operate responsibly.

“They’ve singled out this one industry to slow the spread,” he said. “I understand the science behind where they are coming from. People spend more time in bars, closer together and talking, maybe not masking up the way they should be — but we were open and had no cluster outbreaks here and we’ve worked really hard to be responsible.”

On Monday, Alaska’s News Source asked the Municipality of Anchorage whether there are plans to expand or modify the current emergency orders. A spokesperson said that an announcement will be made “mid-week,” regarding EO-16.

If you or someone you know is contemplating self-harm, please contact Alaska’s Careline Crisis Intervention Line at 1-877-266-HELP (4357) -or- the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that it was a tenant, not an employee, who attempted taking their own life.

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