State relaxes mandates, some remain cautious
April 30, 2020
While some local business owners are expanding operations since the state's "Reopen Alaska Responsibly" plan began Friday, some are reluctant to open their doors. In the midst of reopening, some businesses are unable to apply for federal relief loans and are reeling from the loss of revenue.
The state released a health mandate last week that loosened restrictions on retail businesses, restaurants, personal care services, fishing charters and other non-essential businesses.
The Magpie Gallery owner Laura Rogers has three children who can't go to school and her husband, Manuel, is working out of town. "How do I run a business with the kids schooling at home and as a solo parent?" Rogers asked. "And as a business, how do I continue to invest in a business that is most likely unable to pay for itself this year?"
Rogers said her business doesn't qualify for the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance because she has no employees, and she was turned away from applying for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan because First National Bank Alaska is currently not accepting applications for that program.
She said she'll have to drum up local support and find additional revenue streams. She said she is planning on renting out a part of her building to another business.
First National Bank Alaska Haines branch manager Wendell Harren said the bank is no longer accepting applications because they're still processing an "unprecedented amount and continue to process them."
He said the bank will accept new applications when the previous wave has been processed, but is unsure when that will occur. Harren said the bank will not release the quantity of applications they've received yet, but the majority have been from tourism-related businesses.
The Bookstore owner Amy Kane said her business doesn't qualify for either loan, because she doesn't meet the cut-off date for operations. Kane opened the business in early March.
"I am very hesitant to take out loans generally, but especially now that the summer season will not be providing tourist income on any reliable level. I fear if I take out loans, I will be in even worse shape in the fall than if I hadn't. I have gotten enough support to pay my bills this month and hopefully that will continue next month. And month-by-month is just how I will have to approach things now."
She said reopening her doors to customers even on a limited basis "seems early and sudden to me."
"I have had difficulty actually getting hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. I am feeling unprepared." Kane said. "The health and safety of customers is much more important to me than any potential increase in revenue. I am putting a sign on the door stating that my doors will remain closed and I will continue operating through pickups until at least May 2nd at which point I will reassess."
Miles Furniture owner Candi Bradford said she and her husband Scott are trying to figure out how to adapt the new state guidelines to their store before opening to the public.
"The past few weeks we had no idea what to expect but we've really seen a lot of local support toward our business," Bradford said. "Going forward we want to encourage everyone to stay home as much as possible and let us help you over the phone. We're also happy to have customers come in the store if they need to."
Retail business must limit indoor capacity, restrict visitors to one adult per household and sanitize on an hourly basis. Workers and customers are required to wear masks.
Restaurants must limit indoor capacity, keep tables 10 feet apart, and limit seated guests to members of the same household. Dining is by reservation only. Restaurants must sanitize "touch-point" areas such as workstations, equipment, screens, doorknobs and restrooms on an hourly basis.
Mountain Market owner Mary Jean Sebens said it's too early to open café seating areas to customers, and she said she'll wait several weeks before considering such a move. "If the tables are out, it's our understanding that only families can sit together. We do not want to be placed in the position of policing our patrons," Sebens said. "Secondly, we think it is too soon for that to happen. It seems the better part of wisdom to err on the side of caution and not have to take two steps back when and if we do have Covid-19 in town."
Sebens said she, too, was unable to apply for a PPP loan.
Bamboo Room owner Christy Tengs Fowler said she won't open her restaurant to customers because she doesn't feel it's safe yet. The restaurant will continue pickup services. "Besides the health factor, the new regulations would be too prohibitive to manage," Fowler said. "The hassle versus profit margin is out of whack."
Rusty Compass owner Lee Robinson said he is in the process of "ramping up our business once again."
Robinson was offering catering services during most of March and April. "Today we opened our shop for service for the first time since March 18," Robinson said Friday. "We generally served people who called in their order for pick-up, and followed the new guidelines. We were able to serve a few people who wanted to sit and enjoy coffee at the shop."
Robinson said that other than catering, they've had no business for five weeks. He said he has laid off all employees. "We are uncertain at this time how the present economy will impact our business in the coming year, but we do plan to forge ahead."
Chilkat Bakery owner Miki Atkins said she will seat up to four tables at a time in her restaurant but is recommending that diners take their food to go. She was able to apply for a relief loan before the bank stopped accepting new applications.
The Hair Shop is also taking customers. Hair stylist Jackie Brewington said the shop is following the mandates by limiting traffic to one customer at a time, sanitizing equipment after each customer and wearing masks.
"We change apron in between every client," Brewington said. "The capes they use are one-time use. We wash them after they use them. We started this back up on Friday. The phones have been a little slow. I think people are still scared and they shouldn't be. We disinfect the place from top to bottom."