ASHLAND — Business owners are having mixed reactions following Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s announcement that indoor dining is temporarily shut down and the capacity of recreation areas will be reduced.
“Honestly, it’s devastating. Some of the small businesses and restaurants weren’t able to make it through the last shutdown,” said Jason Camp, partial owner of The Winchester and Smokin’ J’s Rib and Brewhouse, both in Ashland. “I know we can make it through the three weeks that the initial shutdown is happening, but that’s what happened the last time and it got extended for months.”
Beshear said in his initial announcement that the suspension of indoor dining and new wellness facility restrictions through Dec. 13 is not a shutdown, but some owners are seeing the guidelines as such.
Camp said the restrictions will likely cost his two restaurants around $100,000 and will force him to let go of, at least temporarily, around 110 of his about 140 employees.
One difference between the new restrictions and the initial shutdown earlier in the year is how the weather can affect restaurants this time of year.
“For us, it’s really tough because at least the last time there was a shutdown, the weather was turning,” Camp said. “So we could do creative things, like with picnic tables outside and such, but nobody wants to eat out when it’s 32 degrees outside. A lot of times, people don’t even want to get in their car and do curbside service when it’s so cold out.”
Scott Campbell, executive director of the YMCA in Ashland, said the center has been following state guidelines and preparing for months. Campbell also said he was lucky enough to not have to lay off the majority of his employees during the first shutdown, and he does not plan to do so now.
“We kept the majority of our workers the first time through this shutdown, and yeah, we had a few that had health issues when we shut everything down and they were scared to work, but we’ve still got most of them,” he said. “I don’t anticipate laying anyone off because even if there is contact tracing, I need to make sure I’ve got enough staff to keep every shift covered.”
Campbell said one of the main reasons he was able to keep the majority of his employees was because YMCA staff members worked with state officials to become a first-responder care facility. Staff also took time to make updates to the facilities, finish painting jobs and move new equipment into workout spaces during the initial shutdown.
Campbell said that although the new guidelines require him to reduce capacity to 33%, he is not worried about community or staff members not complying.
“Some folks are still hesitant to work out, but we’ve got a lot of people that aren’t and are still coming in and working out when they want to,” he said. “But we were limiting to 50% before and that wasn’t a problem. We’re a fitness center, and we’re trying to do things safely and we’re trying to keep people healthy.”
While Campbell said the YMCA safety protocols have been in place for a while and he does not worry too much about another shutdown, Carl Wellman, owner of Pappy’s Cookin’ in Flatwoods, Kentucky, said he did not see the partial shutdown coming. He said the timing is unfortunate because Pappy’s employees were preparing for Thanksgiving dinner rushes.
“I did not foresee a shutdown here, but what I had actually anticipated was another reduction in indoor dining, not a shutdown of indoor dining,” Wellman said. “We have spent a lot of money getting ramped up for Thanksgiving. We went ahead and bought a bunch of stuff because we didn’t know if the supply chains were going to be reduced, so we wanted to make sure we had product to make sure our customers get taken care of.”
Wellman said he will also have to let go some employees for the time being, which is tough because they are like family.
“We have had to lay off some staff, and that’s the hardest thing about being a business owner,” he said. “We have such a great staff, and your staff becomes your family. You don’t want to see any of them hurt.”
Beshear said bar and restaurant owners will have the opportunity to apply for financial assistance through the CARES Act, saying the state is creating a $40 million fund to assist in revenue losses. Each business owner who qualifies will be able to receive up to $10,000 per business, with $20,000 being the maximum allotted amount.
Camp and Wellman said while they will apply for the financial assistance when they can, $10,000 does not cover the costs they will face during the next three weeks.
“If we’re only closed for the three weeks, we’re going to be upside down about $100,000. That $10,000 is just going to offset some of that cost, so instead of losing $100,000, we’re just losing $90,000,” Camp said. “But if it does get extended months and months like it did last time, I know we’re not going to make it through, and I know there’s a lot of our other friends in the community that have small businesses and restaurants and they’re not going to make it through either.”
All three business owners said while they do not know what the future will consist of, they hope their customers and clients are staying safe and will come back when the time is right.
For now, both The Winchester and Pappy’s Cookin’ are offering Thanksgiving meals for people to order ahead and pick up Thanksgiving Day. Both meals will include turkey, potatoes and other sides.
“If you’ve got the ability to order from us or purchase gift cards for your family and friends during this time, it really makes a huge difference on whether small restaurants like us are going to be able to make it through this or not,” Camp said.
The YMCA staff members will offer virtual classes livestreaming through their Facebook page and their website to give clients a chance to work out live with their peers or stream at a later time when they are available.