Sunday grocery shopping took on a whole new meaning for many after Gov. Jay Inslee announced new restrictions setting indoor limits at stores to 25 percent.
Within hours of his publicized Sunday morning address, shoppers reported being caught in long lines at grocery stores throughout the Tri-Cities, including Costco, WinCo Foods and Yoke’s Fresh Markets.
One customer at Kennewick’s Fred Meyer noticed shelves normally filled with soup and canned beans were cleared out by the afternoon. By night, a shopper at the Pasco Walmart posted a picture on social media showing bare shelves, with just a lone, empty spray bottle and a few 4-packs of toilet paper remaining.
What’s looking like a second round of pandemic buying continued into Monday, with customers waiting in long lines in the rain to get into stores. The retail restrictions with reduced capacity take effect midnight Monday.
And diners are packing their favorite restaurants and bars to get in one last bite or drink before indoor dining is banned once again, starting at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
“I worry most about our employees,” Kyle Simmons, co-owner of CG Public House and Catering, told the Tri-City Herald. “December is our busiest month of the year because of parties. They count on the overtime and gratuities.”
The Kennewick restaurant already had about 300 reservations for in-house Thanksgiving dining. Those customers have been contacted and many have switched to a take-out hot Thanksgiving meal option, he said.
Additionally, CG Public House will have prepared, ready-to-heat meals for the holiday, along with its regular to-go and delivery meals.
Simmons said the business’ bottom line is not great but it will survive.
At the beginning of the year, the restaurant had 45 employees. Of those, 25 were brought back part-time when they eased into indoor dining. Simmons said he now will have to lay off most of them.
“I worry a lot about our employees being able to provide gifts for the kids,” said Simmons. “I worry about them being able to celebrate the holidays with their families like they are used to.”
David Vega, manager of The Pub in Kennewick, said the business broke down its makeshift outdoor patio seating on Nov. 4 because the Tri-Cities had moved to a new phase for indoor dining.
Now, with the weather changing, he is looking into renting tents with windows for an enclosed patio through winter. He also is checking with vendors on food and beverage supplies, saying costs are likely going up, both for the customer and the business.
The Pub may venture into offering to-go food, beer and cocktails this time around, in an effort to keep employees on staff and the business afloat. It also may sell gift certificates for the next year.
“It’s a bad deal, a lot of stress, and a lot of anxiety,” said Vega. “It’s going to take the community. You gotta adjust and try to do something because there is no giving up.”
“The community doesn’t want to lose the small mom-and-pop places,” he added. “The Tri-Cities is a pretty tight community. Everybody is looking out for everybody.”
Tri-Cities Tap and Barrel in Richland already laid off its staff, with owners Kendra and Jason Sadler going it alone.
“We learned a lot from the last one and pivoted quickly,” Jason Sadler said.
They will be relying on a paired-down menu with smaller inventory on hand, as well as a twice-weekly supper club where they offer meals for two along with a bottle of wine or 4-pack of beer.
They also will be offering ready-to-eat family-style meals.
Social media comments
On social media the battle raged between those who believe government-mandated measures are needed to stop the spread of the virus and those who believe Inslee’s limits on business operation and closures are overreach.
“Inslee not going to be satisfied until the whole state is bankrupt and all the small businesses are out of business,” one person posted on the Herald’s Facebook page.
“Please tell me why a governor would want that?” was the response from another poster. “Empty coffers from taxes, higher unemployment claims to pay out and so on. How exactly does that help the governor?”
Another person said it was a ploy to separate people and prevent them from revolting because of the election results.
Among those supporting the decision was a poster who said she was thankful the state has a governor “willing to make the difficult decisions to protect people’s health and save lives. Too bad that he has to put up with nonsense from people choosing to be selfish and self indulgent.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said she was disappointed in the governor’s “one-size-fits-all shutdown” and concerned that it would cause entrepreneurs to lose the businesses they had built over decades.”
“So many people are barely hanging on and need hope,” she said.
Dr. Amy Person, the Benton Franklin Health District’s health officer, said that the governor’s new order was focused primarily on limiting the risk of spreading the coronavirus indoors.
She spoke Monday on a Tri-City Development Council Coffee with Karl webcast.
“(Inslee) was trying to look at not taking everything away, but trying to figure out ‘How can we make it less likely that if you are infected you are going to be able to infect a lot of others’,” she said.
All area residents can make choices that help businesses get back to normal operations.
“If everybody collectively right now, we put our masks on, we maintain our distance, we didn’t go to work sick — if we all did that we could get our rates to turn around in two weeks,” Person said.
‘Correct error of judgment’
While drive-in movie theaters can continue operating under current guidance, indoor service at traditional movie theaters, bowling centers and entertainment spots like museums, zoos and aquariums is prohibited.
Kevin Fairchild of Fairchild Cinemas told the Herald he does not understand Inslee’s logic in shutting them down when “there have been zero known cases of COVID transmission from a movie theater anywhere in the world.”
Fairchild Cinemas has four locations. The Kennewick and Richland theaters were fully open, Moses Lake was on a Friday through Sunday schedule, and Pasco was reopening this month.
“The governor frequently claims that he makes his decisions based on science and fact, but what evidence does he have for closing down the movie-going industry across Washington?” Fairchild asked in an emailed statement. “There is none. The reality is that when movie theaters take preventative measures, they are extremely safe, as we have demonstrated over the past month since we were allowed to open.
“We limit our capacity to 25 percent, separate all groups by more than 6 feet, require masks and maximize the amount of fresh air possible,” he added. “By closing one of the few safe social outings, Gov. Inslee will likely find that he has only steered people to socialize in unsafe ways. We respectfully urge him to reconsider and correct his error of judgment.”
Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce, said small businesses in the area already were feeling the pinch before the latest announcement.
Hastings said he talked with one business owner on Monday morning who wondered how to get in on the state’s new $50 million relief money that Inslee mentioned Sunday.
He said the chamber had to shut down applications for the $400,000 in CARES Act money last time around after 48 hours because of the high numbers of applications.
Most of the money ended up going to minority-owned businesses, generally in the downtown corridor, that did not qualify for other relief money.
The Washington Emergency Management Division, or EMD, posted an alert Monday morning on Facebook asking people to keep their neighbors and fellow shoppers in mind, limit purchases to what is needed and “don’t take it all.”
“We see the bare shelves in some places and recognize that some folks are panic buying,” the post said. “Grocery stores are continuing to receive supplies like normal. The supply chains will remain strong as long as people only buy what they need.”
The agency, pulling tips from the Washington Food Industry Association, reminded shoppers to wear a mask, maintain social distance in stores and “please stay patient with hardworking employees, who are just trying to do their job.”
EMD also offered the following advice:
— Make a List and Stay Focused — Before you head out to the store, take a few moments to make an itemized list of what you need. This helps you shop more efficiently and not spend extra time in the stores.
— Try “Contactless” Shopping — Order ahead, pay ahead, then use curbside pick-up or try a delivery.
— Shop Off-Peak Hours — Type the name of the store and its location in Google search. A box will pop up showing when foot traffic there is highest.
— Respect the Limits Set — Don’t Hoard! Many stores have place limits on items such as eggs, toilet paper and more. Please respect these limits. They have been set in place to make sure that the products are available for all shoppers.
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