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The message out of the governor’s office reads something like this, “Inaction is not an option. We have to take bold decisive action,” Gov. Jay Inslee said during Sunday’s press conference.

What that means to the restaurant business across Washington state is as of noon on Wednesday, all restaurants will be closed to indoor dining and will resort back to to-go delivery/curbside and pick-up or drive-thru. Outdoor dining is still on the menu, but the table size will be restricted to five people.

For the local restaurants with a drive-thru window, the 48-hour notice doesn’t affect them quite as much. But for many of the dining establishments in town, the slew of new rules, timed with the holiday season, is damning.

BASALT SHUTS DOWN

Hotel Windrow managing partner Steve Townsend said The Basalt Restaurant has shut down and let go its entire restaurant staff of 20 people from top to bottom. The Palace let go eight bartenders and 22 bus and dishwashers come Wednesday and will go back to takeout, according to co-owner P.J. Bugni.

“I got an email from Anthony Anton (President/CEO Washington Hospitality Association) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. They never notify us on the weekend, so I knew it wasn’t good,” Bugni said. “We tried the curbside service back in March and it didn’t work, so we shut down.

“This time, we will retain the cooks and wait staff to handle the packaging and curbside deliveries. We’ll see how it works, but it is extremely frustrating to tell half of your staff they just lost their jobs.”

SHORT NOTICE

The Hotel Windrow had a series of construction delays in December of 2019 that led to a late opening of the first downtown hotel in the past 38 years. Ironically, with the COVID-19 restrictions, the Basalt is now to be closed a year later for Thanksgiving and possibly Christmas of 2020.

“The whole thing came as a bit of a surprise. We were disappointed it was done on such short notice, because it didn’t allow for any planning,” Townsend said. “You buy food and you plan to be open and all of a sudden you’re not.

“There’s nothing you can do about it. The last time the restrictions came, they said it would be a 30-day closure and it turned out to be 90. So, I expect we’ll lose both Thanksgiving and Christmas and possibly New Year’s Eve. Hopefully we’ll reopen in January.”

COVID-19 RESURGENCE

Forty-seven states, as well as Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico, are reporting a surge in cases, according to an ABC News analysis. Twenty-nine states as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are seeing a daily increase in deaths. Twenty-three states are seeing an increase in hospitalizations.

Other states are reenacting stay-at-home orders and store closures. Gov. Inslee on Sunday announced a slew of new rules, including a halt to indoor operations at restaurants, bars, gyms and more and a ban on indoor social gatherings with people outside one’s household.

LOCAL BUNISESS TAKES A HIT

At the news conference, Inslee said the state is undergoing a “third wave and an average daily case have doubled in the last two weeks.” On Saturday, Washington state recorded a record 2,286 new cases. Hospitalization rates have risen about 40%, state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said.

Local business owners understand the need to keep the community safe, but restricting operations with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up is brutal.

“It’s devastating, that’s for sure. We’re doing take-out and online ordering, but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to get us through,” Perkins Restaurant and Bakery general manager Brent Haberman said. “All we can do is adhere to the restrictions. It’s frustrating, because we’ve ordered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food that’s just going to go to waste.”

While indoor dining at restaurants and bars will stop, outdoor dining and takeout remains unchanged. Ellensburg Pasta Co. owner Joann Harris said they will continue takeout and try and expand their outdoor dining patio.

PATIO DINING

“We’re going to expand our outdoor heaters for our patio to make things more comfortable,” she said. “We have a great patio, so that’s the challenge for us. The restrictions also restrict the number of people we can have at each table.

“We will have a reduction in staff. We’re looking into how many people that is going to be and if it will be a temporary or a complete layoff. This is just such bad timing because we have a lot of people that come in around Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

ANOTHER BIG HIT

Buzz Inn Steakhouse general manager Windy Mayer said the steakhouse has lost close to 90% of its business with the pandemic and the closure of The Gorge, Jazz in the Valley and the Ellensburg Rodeo, along with seasonal campers. This latest guideline regulation has led to a 90% (28 people) decline of the staff.

“Of course, we want the community and visitors to be safe. But we are worried about the latest major reduction,” said Mayer, whose restaurant does have a small patio with four tables. “We’ve already lost all of the I-90 traffic we normally see with The Gorge being shut down and all campers that come through in the summer.

“Now, we’re going to lose Thanksgiving. I really think (the restrictions) will go to the first of the year, so that also means Christmas and New Year’s. We’re really worried about how we’re going to keep going.”

CITY LOOKING FOR FINANCES

Ellensburg mayor Bruce Tabb said resources to help restaurant owners are limited, but there is the possibility some money will come available, he said.

“The governor is making $50 million available. It is not clear how that is going to be made available or what the guidelines are going to be for the expenditure of those dollars,” Tabb said. “We are examining any all avenues to see if there is any resources left within the city, county or chamber that can go to businesses affected by these restrictions.

“Right now, there is no federal money available and if there were, we wouldn’t see it until January.”

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