Jackson’s on Cole Street had to close temporarily due to staffing shortages. It was planning to open up again when Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all restaurants to stop indoor dining for four weeks. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Jackson’s on Cole Street had to close temporarily due to staffing shortages. It was planning to open up again when Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all restaurants to stop indoor dining for four weeks. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Enumclaw’s downtown economy threatened by restaurant closures

Will outdoor dining and take-out orders be enough to keep local restaurants open?

First, Kelly’s Mercantile closed. Then, it was Jubilee Naturals. And now, with Gov. Jay Inslee’s most recent mandate to shut down indoor dining, other local business owners are worried they won’t have the resources keep their doors until the restrictions are lifted.

Inslee’s newest orders went into effect Nov. 17 after he said this “third wave” of COVID-19 put the state “in a more dangerous position than we were in March when our first stay-at-home order was issued.” Besides no indoor dining at restaurants or bars, grocery stores and other in-store retailer capacity also dropped to 25 percent occupancy.

These new restrictions were to last four weeks, or until Dec. 15, but it’s unclear if Inslee will lift them by then.

“My hunch is, based on past track record, that I don’t see us opening for indoor dining before the first of the year,” said Jeff Schweter, owner of both the Rainier Bar and Grill and Jackson’s. “I think this is going to continue to spike through the holidays and I don’t see [Inslee] turning that order around any time soon.”

Schweter said his businesses were doing “fairly well” when the state was allowing some, albeit limited, indoor seating. Unfortunately, this new round of restrictions came right as Jackson’s was set to re-open, after having been closed for recent weeks due to staffing issues.

However, “We’ve been lucky enough, or blessed enough, to have been doing solid business for years, and we’ve got reserves,” he continued. “We’re going to have to dip into them.”

While Schweter may have some reserves, other business may not.

“We still have maxed credit cards and back rent. We were working back up to flush and the holiday season may have gotten us there just for the slow January and February months,” said Sean McDonald, owner of the Cole Street Brewery. “If this shutdown extends through those months and there is no business support, not only Cole Street Brewery but most every small business in our town will be out of business.”

It’s not just the financial aspect of the pandemic that’s causing pain and grief — it’s also the psychological aspect of the pandemic, said Troy Couch, CEO of the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job keeping them financially in pretty good shape. I think it’s the emotional thing that’s going to take a toll on our businesses,” he said in a recent interview. “They’re emotionally spent. You can see it in some of their reactions. They’re really edgy. Angry. Exhausted. If they saw an end in sight, if they got through January and the vaccine looked like it was coming or it was already out and it was going to start being effective to where they could go back to normal a little bit, I think they’ll hang on. I think they’d make it. That’s my hope.”

But Couch is worried that once the restaurants go, that’ll be the beginning of the end for Enumclaw’s economy.

“Restaurants are the draw. Restaurants and breweries, wine bars and things like that. That’s the draw that draws people to come down, have some food, have a drink, and then they go into the stores,” he continued. “You don’t have that draw, that puts a serious dent in the retail.”

Couch added that the Chamber is looking to host some more BINGO events to help encourage people to come downtown and enjoy a meal, as well as duplicate the new local brewery and winery Imbibe Trail Tour for local restaurants.

But some help has to come from above, too — McDonald has made it clear in past interviews that there needs to be a stimulus package just for business owners to be able to pay their rent and utilities, and Schweter said he needs more Paycheck Protection Program money to keep paying his employees, as well as needing the state to figure out its unemployment system.

“The people that we’ve had to lay off have had a really hard time still getting into the system and getting the money they’re supposed to be getting,” Schweter said, adding that he’s had to go from 35 full- and part-time staff to just about eight or nine.

But whether that aid will come is still up in the air, and hope seems to be a faint glimmer.

“[I’m] not counting on the state or the fed to save me,”Schweter said. “We’re just going to do what we can.”

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