Local bars, resaurants, gyms, theaters react to coronavirus

Local bars, resaurants, gyms, theaters react to coronavirus

The state of Alaska is limiting all bars, breweries, restaurants, cafes and food kiosks to dine-out service, Alaska’s chief medical officer announced Tuesday night in a press conference with Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said no on-site consumption is permitted due to the threat of the new coronavirus, but carry out and drive-through food pickup is allowed. The food establishments can remain open, but Zink said customers and staff should maintain social distancing and proper hand hygiene. This mandate takes effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday and continues through 5 p.m. on April 1.

The new health mandate also closes all entertainment facilities to the public, including theaters, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys and bingo halls.

Even before Zink’s announcement Tuesday night, central Kenai Peninsula restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters were adjusting to the threat posed by the new coronavirus.

Tuesday afternoon, Mykel’s Restaurant in Soldotna announced on Facebook that it will stay open through Saturday, while encouraging social distancing and to-go orders, then close until further notice after Saturday night. The new health mandate from the state means that Mykel’s will not be able to do dine-in service after 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Alice Kerkvliet, who has owned the restaurant for 21 years, had a meeting with her 18 restaurant employees, about half of which are full-time, at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

“We sat down as a collective group and agreed that it was in the employees’ best interest, my best interest and the community’s best interest,” Kerkvliet said in an interview hours before the state’s new health mandate was issued. “It was an open discussion. We collectively agreed that was probably the best way to go for now.

“We’re hoping it is short-lived.”

Kerkvliet said the Soldotna Inn, which is connected to the restaurant, will remain open.

“For the last week, it’s been painfully slow anyway,” Kerkvliet said of business at Mykel’s. “The whole to-go order thing, we applaud people who are doing that, but we’ve never been much of a to-go restaurant. That doesn’t fit our style of service.”

Kerkvliet said she is concerned about her employees and that’s why she held the meeting with them.

“I did call the unemployment office yesterday and they were helpful in giving me some guidance as to what it is already OK to do to benefit my employees,” Kerkvliet said.

At least three other restaurants in Soldotna were going to take-out only even before the announcement of the new health mandate.

Kelsey Shields, owner of Lucy’s Market in Soldotna, said the business is voluntarily closing down the dining room starting today. Shields said the full menu will still be available via take-out orders.

“We believe this is the correct measure to take to protect public health,” Shields said Tuesday before the state’s new health mandate was announced. “We’re hoping other business owners follow suit. I spoke to multiple business owners today and they agreed to do the same.”

Shields said the threat to public health is grave enough that there needs to be government action to go to take-out only.

Shields said Lucy’s Market has five employees, plus two owners that also work there. She doesn’t know what impact closing the dining room will have or how long this will last.

“We have no idea and I don’t think anyone does, town to town, state to state, country to country,” Shields said. “We have to do what we can now before the area is hit, so when it is hit it will be more manageable.”

Pamela Parker is the owner of Everything Bagels in Soldotna and also a member of the Soldotna City Council. Everything Bagels suspended dine-in service Tuesday.

“We definitely noticed a slight decrease in the number of customers, and anecdotally that’s what we’ve heard from other restaurant owners in the area,” Parker said Tuesday afternoon. “After speaking with other restaurant owners, we decided to close the dining area.”

Everything Bagels has three full-time and two part-time employees.

“I don’t want to make this sound doomy and gloomy,” Parker said. “We are still open for business, serving our regular menu and offering the same services. A lot of it is taking a financial hit in order to protect the community. We’re just trying to make sure everything is OK.”

The Sushi Exchange in Soldotna closed down its dining area Monday.

“It’s been really slow compared to what it had been,” Krystina Luzzo, a waitress at Sushi Exchange, said of business. “It’s at least two-thirds down from what it was before.”

Luzzo, interviewed Tuesday afternoon, said there are eight or nine employees, including about four full-time employees mostly working in the kitchen. Luzzo has a second job at a local fitness gym.

“They’re hopeful it will just pass over,” Luzzo said of the Sushi Exchange owners. “In the meantime, they’re giving a 10 percent discount to everyone who does come in, on every ticket, so people can still afford it.

“Also, kids that are employed and don’t get many hours can still come in and get the employee discount anytime. There’s good people here.”

Monday, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz signed an order closing gyms and entertainment venues and forbidding bars and restaurants from offering dine-in service though the rest of March. The state followed a similar path a day later.

A sampling of fitness gyms on the central peninsula Tuesday afternoon, before the state mandate came down, showed businesses concerned for the health of their clients, but pulled in two different directions by that concern.

Brandon Miller, owner of Iron Asylum on Kalifornksy Beach Road, said he has taken criticism on social media for keeping his gym open.

Miller said he is staying up to date on the new coronavirus, but he also said he knows how important the gym is to those who work out there.

“I’m not taking this lightly and it’s not that I’m not worried about it, but I’m more worried if I close my doors,” he said.

Miller, a veteran himself, said his 400-member gym has become a way for many of his clients to deal with past mental and physical trauma. He said veterans, police, firefighters and those who have dealt with domestic or sexual violence work out there.

Miller said 11 people from the unit he served with in the military have committed suicide.

“Why most of those guys have chosen to die is because they’re isolated — they’ve cut themselves off from everything,” Miller said.

Miller said he views closing his doors as akin to taking drugs that promote mental health away from his clients. He said sanitation measures have been stepped up, and those feeling ill have been told to stay home.

He said attendance has been somewhat down, but nobody has dropped their membership because of the new coronavirus.

“This is a place where we all come together,” Miller said. “Pretty much everyone has shared their story with me — the reason they are here. We’re a tight community. I’ve gotten a lot of thank yous from people coming down from Anchorage because they have no place to work out.”

Callie Skene, manager at The Fitness Place in Soldotna, said there have been some canceled memberships and some membership freezes out of the 850 memberships. There also has been lower attendance at the gym.

“Overall, some people are happy we’re still open,” Skene said. “It’s a chance to burn off energy. Everyone is cooped up and this is a place to move around.

“We believe moving bodies is important. In order to be healthy, people should be moving their bodies.”

Skene said cleaning and sanitation measures were already thorough at the gym, but she said those efforts have been doubled. Also, the kids zone hours have been shortened.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Skene said. “We don’t want to close, but if it comes down to it, we will close.”

Anytime Fitness on Kalifornsky Beach Road also remains open, but has issued guidelines on its website about washing hands and covering coughs, wiping down machines and staying home if not feeling well.

The move also hits movie theaters. Shelly Endsley of Orca Theater wrote in an email Tuesday night after the mandate came down that the theater will have its first showing Wednesday then close for at least two weeks due to the mandate.

Editor’s note: This story corrects a print version that ran in the Wednesday, March 18, edition. The health mandate does include the closure of theaters, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys and bingo halls.

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