Businesses prepare to reopen but remain wary of COVID-19

Barista May Pagsolingan serves coffee at Harborside Fly-By on Mill Bay Road on Wednesday.

Following Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s announcement this week that all businesses in Alaska can reopen at 100% capacity on Friday morning, many shops in Kodiak are planning to open while at the same time remaining concerned about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases. 

The reopening guidelines state that all businesses, houses of worship, libraries and museums can open, and sport activities can restart. 

However, the 14-day quarantine requirement for interstate and international travel to Alaska will remain in place and will be reevaluated on June 2. 

Senior centers, prisons and institutions will continue to have restricted access, and any proposed large public gatherings, such as festivals and concerts, will need to be reviewed with public health officials before they are scheduled. 

The new guidelines also state that community members should still take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with social distancing — staying 6 feet or more away from non-family members, washing hands and cleaning surfaces frequently, wearing a face covering when in a public setting, and staying home if sick. 

Pattie Almeter, who owns Tony’s Bar with business partner George Gatter, said she plans to open the bar on Tuesday, but she is waiting for clarification on specific guidelines for reopening, such as sanitation requirements and how to social distance while opening the bar at 100% capacity. 

Although she noted that the new guidelines were vague, she said she will still have measures in place to “keep people social distancing.” 

“I still feel it is important to do so. The virus isn't gone,” she said. 

Almeter also said that starting on June 1, the owners of El Chicano Mexican restaurant will use the kitchen at Tony’s Bar to offer take-out service and dine-in service in the bar until their restaurant is up and running. 

Kodiak Hana Restaurant, known for its sushi and Japanese dishes, will also open next week, according to the restaurant’s bookkeeper Takashi Kimura. 

Kimura said the staff will have to prepare the restaurant to follow the government’s social-distancing and sanitation guidelines before opening. 

He said the restaurant received funds from the federal Paycheck Protection Program and was able to hire back employees who wanted to return to work, adding that about half of the employees chose to return. 

Harborside Cafe, located downtown, and Harborside Fly-By on Mill Bay Road are already open and will increase capacity. 

Doreece Mutch, who owns Harborside with her husband, said she is excited about the reopening and will continue to follow the sanitation and social-distancing practices required in past health mandates. 

Following the month-long closure of Harborside’s downtown location, and slow sales at Fly-By, Mutch said business has been slowly increasing and she hopes it will continue to pick up. 

Ben Millstein, the owner of the Kodiak Island Brewing Co., remains concerned about reopening and the possibility that it could increase the number of COVID-19 cases in Kodiak. To date, the island has only had one positive case. 

“I think it's premature. I’m afraid it's a recipe for a spike in cases, and for the success we’ve had in Kodiak and in Alaska in general to be undone, I'm very nervous about it,” Millstein said. 

Before the coronavirus hit, business was already slowing down, he said. After restaurants were mandated in March to close for dine-in service but allowed to offer take-out service, business decreased further. 

To reopen now could mean more cost and work without the guarantee of revenue for the brewery. 

“If we reopen and we can expect a quarter of our normal business to come back, we still will not be making any money and we will have to work a lot harder for that.” he said, referring to the work and costs required to follow the guidelines on social distancing and sanitizing. 

Despite slow business, Millstein said he was grateful for the few regulars who have continued to support his business. He was also able to obtain money from the Paycheck Protection Program for his business, though questions about repaying the loan are still up in the air. 

The Paycheck Protection Program, offered through the Small Business Administration, allows businesses to hire back their employees. The SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.

“I'm not looking at going out of a business in a week or two. I have enough reserves to continue to lose money for a little while, but also that depends on how this whole Paycheck Protection Program shakes out too,” he said. 

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