COVID-19 hits businesses in Clackamas County
With the governor's orders this week aimed at corralling COVID-19, the economic realities of a global pandemic hitting Oregon set in for Clackamas County businesses.
Many restaurants and bars simply shut down, but others are attempting to limp along with takeout service. Macy's closed starting March 18 nationwide, including at the Clackamas Town Center, while the mall itself attempted to stay open with social distancing warnings in effect.
Holly Pfortmiller, who recently was promoted to general manager of the Rivershore Hotel in Oregon City, started working there as a housekeeper in 2007, just as the Great Recession hit the U.S. With wave after wave of room-reservation cancellations this month, she said she's "having flashbacks" to her early days at the hotel suffering an economic crisis.
While she's not planning to lay off any of the hotel's 27 employees, Pfortmiller said she's having to make the difficult decision to cut back hours for housekeeping staff. The Rivershore Hotel had booked several basketball teams for the state tournament, but high school sporting events have been canceled, along with hundreds of room reservations.
"Luckily, we hadn't yet ramped up hiring for the summer," Pfortmiller said. "We're a 24-hour business, so we have to have a certain number of employees here, whether we're taking care of 100 guests or 10."
Oregon City's only hotel has a restaurant under separate management that remained open with reduced hours and takeout-only service. Confusion reigned this week as to whether outdoor seating was still allowed under the governor's order. Mike's Drive-In, which has locations in Oregon City and Milwaukie, closed its dining rooms to customer seating, but people were still eating their takeout meals on the drive-in property's picnic tables.
Milwaukie resident Cheryl Kellerhals, while eating a Mike's Drive-In burger on a picnic table in front of the restaurant, criticized the government's actions, saying "everyone's gotta eat." Greg Petrich, retail manager of Tony's Fish Market in Oregon City, expressed hope that food purveyors would be somewhat immune to the economic crisis.
While providing takeout service, Tony's Fish Market closed its restaurant seating, including its outdoor seating, and Petrich called on the state to provide clarity on the new rules. Petrich noted that he received an email from the state on COVID-19 prevention tips, reminding all food businesses to regularly wipe down surfaces with bleach, which was a practice already in place at the fish market.
Petrich said his customers haven't been concerned about contracting the coronavirus from Pacific-caught seafood, but rather that supplies of fresh fish would dry out. He's been assuring customers that most fishing vessels have crews of fewer than seven people, below the recommended groups of fewer than 10 people in the state's latest COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
"When it comes to availability of fresh, local produce, I don't think anyone has to worry," he said.
While the typical grocery-store shopper hasn't been able to find toilet paper or hand sanitizer for a week, Tony's Fish Market and other businesses, so far, have been able to replenish their supplies through wholesalers. Petrich said he orders toilet paper, wax paper and to-go boxes from West Coast Paper Co.
While business has been down at restaurants in Clackamas County, sales of certain items have been spiking, and FDA-approved cold medicine generally is sold out at grocery stores. Naturopathic Drs. Gary Dreger and Joanne Gordon, who have run Natural Health Works in Oregon City for 20 years, wrote in a public statement that they have been "very busy" following the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Our immune support supplements are practically sold out, and we've never run out of immune support products before," they wrote. "Even though we still have a limited supply, many things are on backorder. We're doing our best to keep supplements on hand, so please be patient with us as we try to meet everyone's needs."
Dreger and Gordon offered a series of tips to supplement the official recommendations regarding coronavirus, noting that the clinic is offering consultation visits virtually, which they said were "highly recommended" if you're feeling sick or recently were in contact with someone who was sick. The clinic remained open for various procedures.
Gladstone resident Jeremy Riddle, who has a doctorate in herbal medicine, said that business overall has been down while spiking in immune-supporting herbal supplements like echinacea and elderberry.
"None of this has been tested by the FDA, but it's been proven tried and true by herbalists for millennia," he said.
Riddle has co-owned Bound to Happen on Gladstone's Main Street for almost exactly a year and serves as one of the leaders of the city's Community Emergency Response Team, which partners with the fire department to train community volunteers in responding to natural disasters and other citywide emergency situations.
Riddle's CERT group held a pandemic training March 3, attracting 29 attendees with the theme "nothing spreads faster than fear." One of the activities involved purposely but surreptitiously "infecting" a city official with Glo Germ, a product that simulates transfer of germs through UV-sensitive hand lotion.
As the city official shook the hand of other arrivals, Riddle eventually revealed that 19 of the attendees had become "infected" through the hand-to-hand contact, with many of them touching their faces after shaking hands.
"It was a big wakeup call for a lot of people," Riddle said, noting that Bound to Happen immediately canceled its weekly walking groups, herbal classes, Reiki and meditation sessions. The store is offering mail order or same-day local drop-off service (at the cost of gas) so customers can stay home.
"We haven't raised our prices, even though some of our products have been selling really well and our costs have gone up from suppliers," Riddle said. "This area has been really good to us, so it's the least we can do to give back."
Rivershore Hotel's general manager encouraged citizens and business owners to rally through the coronavirus crisis together.
"This too shall pass, and we're resilient, and we'll get through this," Pfortmiller said.
She thanked the hotel's owners at the Hemstreet Development Corp. for their support of the "community landmark." Pfortmiller said she was looking forward to some "friendly competition" from other hotel developers who had been planning to break ground in Oregon City and had even received building permits from the city. Right now Rivershore's business largely comes from conferences in Portland, fishermen and people coming to visit their relatives in Oregon City, but local hoteliers see a future with large numbers of tourists.
Pfortmiller, a Gladstone resident, said that the entire local economy will benefit from the riverwalk, a walkway planned to open public access to Willamette Falls in Oregon City. Pfortmiller said it's time to put an end to construction delays for the riverwalk.
"We're so excited for the riverwalk, and that's going to be so amazing for this town," she said.
Clackamas County Health Department tips for preventing the spread of the coronavirus:
1. Wash your hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
2. Cover your mouth with a tissue, sleeve or elbow (not hands) when you cough or sneeze.
3. Stay home if you're sick.
4. Keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and regular exercise, and by taking care of underlying health conditions.
5. When possible in public, increase the physical space between yourself and the people around you to about 6 feet.
Naturopathic Drs. Gary Dreger and Joanne Gordon, who have run Natural Health Works in Oregon City for 20 years, provided these tips for surviving the COVID-19 outbreak:
1. Stay smart and in tune with your body.
2. Don't buy into the fear, but show compassion and love for your fellow friends, family and neighbors.
3. Take time to reconnect with family and friends in a safe manner.
4. Shop in the produce section of the store. Fruits and veggies are fully stocked and will give you the nutrition your body needs to stay strong.
5. Get a full night's sleep.
6. Exercise daily
7. Stay hydrated.
8. Turn off the news
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