Devon Gonzalez closed the doors to her business, Kenai Kombucha, Wednesday, until “further notice.” The shop is the only source of income for Gonzalez and her husband, who own the shop together.
“We are very stressed out about it, being a small business owner and being 100% dependent on this income here,” Gonzalez said. “We do want to keep our family and our customers safe along with the community.”
Kenai Kombucha is one of many businesses in the area and in the state that shuttered their doors Wednesday at 5 p.m., due to a new health mandate issued by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The mandate closed all dine-in services, bars, gyms and entertainment venues until April 1 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Doug Hogue, owner of Kenai River Brewing Company and Kenai Joe’s Bar, said the mandate is going to be challenging for small businesses. Kenai Joe’s bar will be closed until the mandate is lifted. Kenai River Brewing is still selling beer and food to go.
“The bars are hit really hard,” he said. “They don’t have any options … We all have to do what we need to do. We want to do everything we can. We don’t want to see people dying.”
Hogue said he is trying to maintain all staff and operations as long as he can. He said beer distributions have gone down as restaurants close their dining rooms, but beer can sales could see an upswing.
About 8% of the state’s workforce could be impacted by the mandate, a Wednesday press release from the Alaska House Majority said.
Everything Bagels owner Pamela Parker is looking into how she can ensure her five employees get some form of compensation if she has to let them go. She said she would rather let them go so they can get unemployment and make a living wage as opposed to cutting their hours.
“I could reduce it down to one or two employees, or it could just be me in here by myself,” Parker said. “At this point it’s hard to say.”
Part of the mandate also shuts down movie theaters, bowling alleys and bingo halls. Two movie theatres in the area, Orca Theater and Kenai Cinemas, closed their doors Wednesday. The mandate also closed Kenai’s Extreme Fun Center, which is owned by Oregon-based Coming Attraction Theatres. The company also operates Kenai Cinemas and a fun center in Wasilla.
Marty Metiva, the Alaska Director of Operations for Coming Attraction Theatres, said he laid off almost 100 employees across the state after the mandate was issued. He said his number one priority is the safety of the community and his staff.
“Everyone’s handling it with good spirits,” Metiva said.
Metiva said he is hoping the state can work on easing unemployment requirements through House Bill 308. The bill, which was introduced this week, will direct the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development to provide impacted workers with Unemployment Insurance relief for lost work hours, whether they result from self-quarantine, lost work hours, or other related impacts of the pandemic, according to a press release from the Alaska House Majority.
On Wednesday, the phone was ringing off the hook at the office of Tim Dillon, director at the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. Dillon has been hearing from local businesses and government officials about how this mandate is impacting them and what can be done to support the area’s small businesses. Dillon said he’s doing everything he can to help.
“We’re trying to be a go-between,” Dillon said. “This is impacting everybody on one level or another. It’s difficult out there right now.”
He said the community members should “be kind to each other and help each other out.”
Dillon encouraged businesses and workers to reach out to the district with any questions they might have.
At Louie’s Steak and Seafood, Chef Brant Feather is hoping the mandate only lasts until April 1.
“I think what has been set in place is going to impact all small businesses,” he said.
Director of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, Johna Beech, said the chamber is concerned with the impact the mandate will have on local businesses. She said the biggest things residents can do to help small businesses in the area is to “shop local, shop local, shop local.”
Some businesses are already seeing that community support. Joe Spady, owner and chef at Three Peaks Mercantile, said Wednesday had been a “decent” day.
“Some people are coming in and saying they’re hungry, others are coming in and saying ‘we’re here to support you,’” Spady said.
Spady, like other restaurant owners in the area, have shifted his service to takeout only.
“One thing I love about our community is that we rally,” Beech said. “In just a few days businesses have shifted their operations to withstand what’s happening.”
Operations were adjusted at Everything Bagels on Friday, when Parker started offering a takeout service for customers who wanted to practice social distancing. On Tuesday, Parker made the decision to close the cafe’s dining room before the mandate was announced later that night. Business was largely to-go orders prior to the new mandate, but still saw a slowdown in customers. She said she’s optimistic that once people adjust to the new operations, business could pick back up.
“This is just day one, but already it was pretty clear that things are going to slow down,” Parker said.
Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Director, Shanon Davis, said the chamber is hoping to be a resource for the community and local business owners. The chamber made a Facebook group called the Greater Soldotna Takeout and Delivery Options, where people can see a list of delivery and takeout services in the Soldotna area.
Davis also sent out a business survey so people could provide an updated list of the services they are offering. Davis is also compiling information on low-interest loan options and best practices for dealing with layoffs.
“Our businesses are working so hard just to keep their doors open, so we want to do some of that other legwork for them,” Davis said.
Both the Kenai and Soldotna Chamber offices are closed to the public, but still available by phone or email.
To get food to residents, two cab companies have offered delivery services. Alaska Cab and TNT Taxi have announced new offerings to help bring food to residents who are practicing social distancing. The companies ask residents to order and pay for food at restaurants or at grocery stores over the phone, and then for a fee, the cab companies can drive the food home.
Alaska Cab starts the meter at the restaurant and stops it once they arrive at their destination, their Wednesday Facebook announcement said. Call Alaska Cab for more information at 907-283-6000.
TNT Taxi charges fees based on what towns they need to drive through. Driving within Kenai or within Soldotna would be $10. Driving between Kenai and Soldotna would be $25, and other fees apply for neighboring areas. Call TNT Taxi for more information at 907-953-9070.
With so many sudden layoffs, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development is encouraging residents to file for their unemployment online at my.alaska.gov, a Tuesday press release said. The department asks that people only call the claim center if they have questions and should expect a long wait time.
Several local grocery stores are hiring workers, including Walmart, Safeway and Three Bears. Apply for jobs at Three Bears at www.threebearsalaska.com/jobs. Safeway has 400 immediate openings in stores across the state, which can be applied for online at www.careersatsafeway.com.