Amid COVID-19 spike, some businesses close up shop, again
Fifteen days. That's how long Lucky Labrador Brewing Co.'s four Portland pubs stayed open before voluntarily shutting back down amid a statewide coronavirus spike.
Lucky Lab welcomed patrons back to its breweries — including the one in Multnomah Village — on June 19, after Multnomah County bars and restaurants were given the green light by the state to reopen their dining areas to customers. But as cases of COVID-19 surged in Oregon, co-owner Gary Geist said the business owners became uneasy.
"We were open for pretty much full service, with a limited menu," Geist said. "Shortly after that, the cases started spiking and I just got uncomfortable with the way things were going."
The first half of July saw Oregon's COVID-19 cases hit record highs for the state. On June 15, the Oregon Health Authority reported 184 new cases. By July 2, the state had 375 new cases.
The Lucky Lab owners made the decision to re-close all locations on July 3, until further notice, citing concerns for the health and safety of the public and the company's roughly 70 employees.
"It sounds like we dodged a bullet," Geist said, noting a surge in coronavirus cases following the July 4 weekend. "If we have someone on our staff get infected, that's horrible PR. It's also a public safety issue."
Less than two weeks after the brewery closures, Oregon reported 282 new cases on July 15, before hitting a new record the following day, with 437 new cases logged by the state. Health officials attributed the new rise in cases to a combination of social gatherings, sporadic spread and workplace outbreaks.
Lucky Lab isn't the only Southwest Portland bar to close back down after reopening.
Journeys in Multnomah Village posted a public announcement July 6 indicating the pub would close its doors due to concerns about the virus.
"Due to the uncertain nature of the moment and our concern for staff and customer health we will be closing for the next two weeks. We will review the precautions that we have in place and see if we feel comfortable opening again at that time," owners said via Facebook. "We hope to be open for beverages on the patio again soon."
The pub later announced on July 16 it would reopen its patio area to customers, with limited capacity.
While Lucky Lab sought to minimize health risks by closing, it faces ongoing business risks by doing so. In a city that thrives on restaurants and small businesses, Portland has seen restaurants announce permanent closures each week since the pandemic.
Geist is painfully aware of the dilemma his business faces.
"We're losing money every month," he said. "We only have so much in the bank account. There are very few businesses doing well in our industry."
Lucky Lab breweries haven't moved to a takeout-only model because Geist said it's not a big revenue stream for the company. That, combined with the cost of takeout containers, has steered the local brewer away.
"It's not really that viable, just because you're spending a lot of money in paper products, a lot of waste. Food is not a hugely profitable part of your business," Geist said.
He said he wishes other businesses and public places would do the same.
"What I think Oregon needs to do is shut back down. It's not going to go away until we shut back down and the cases are minimal," Geist said. "We tried and we failed. We need to try again … otherwise the virus is just going to keep on creeping back. The less contact we can have, the better."
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