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Local restaurants, hotels have seen small upticks in customers lately still far from pre-pandemic totals

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The last year has been hard on local restaurants like Curry's Landing in Charbonneau and struggles from the pandemic may continue despite vaccinations. Owner Cindy Grier is pictured here.

For Wilsonville's hospitality industry, circumstances have somewhat improved from the throes of 2020 — when much of the economy ground to a halt.

Yet even as the ranks of the vaccinated proliferate, the weather improves and more feel comfortable frequenting local businesses, Wilsonville representatives told the Spokesman they weren't anticipating a return to normalcy for many months or even years.

"All the estimates I've seen have put recovery for the hospitality industry at 2022 or 2023," said Greg Astley, the director of government affairs for the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. "It's premature to say we'll be back to normal anytime soon. I hope that when people get vaccinated over the last couple months, travel returns to some level of what it was pre-pandemic."

Tourism impacts could linger

Envisioning the new Hilton Garden Inn as the most upscale hotel in the region south of downtown Portland, owner Rohit Sharma expected Wilsonville's lucrative industrial sector and other large corporations to be a major source of overnight stays.

That assumption hasn't come to pass due to circumstances outside of his control. The hotel opened last summer and many major businesses are still working remotely and traveling sparingly, he said.

According to Oregon Tourism Commission statistics, lodging revenue was down about 33% from February 2020 to 2021. However, Sharma said business has picked up about 15% from the last quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021.

"There has been a pick-up but not as much as we would like to see," he said.

Beth Price, the director of sales for the Wilsonville Holiday Inn, said that with employees of big companies working from home, the hotel is trying to expand to serve more local companies.

On a positive note, Price said that for a long time the hotel was only attracting bookings for about one week out but has recently started to see customers schedule stays as far out as December.

"People weren't planning long-term vacations or business trips. Whenever we see that (far out bookings) we know consumer confidence has increased quite a bit," she said.

Still, Price said traveling tours were a significant source of revenue pre-pandemic and that she doesn't expect those to return for at least a year.

The hotel representatives and Astley, however, were cautiously optimistic about the impacts of the vaccine rollout.

"We certainly hope people feel comfortable (and) as more Oregonians do get the vaccine that they will be able to travel, be willing to go out and do the things they used to do pre-pandemic. We'll have to see what everyone's comfortable with," Astley said.

Employee shortages?

The virus and restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 aren't the only concerns for some. Darren Harmon, the general manager for Bullwinkle's Wilsonville, said staff at the entertainment complex is down about 45 employees from the 125 it had pre-pandemic, and in turn the complex has reduced hours and days of operation. The facility had to let staff go when it closed down for months and Harmon surmised that many of the former employees found other jobs, while some may be benefiting from unemployment. Astley backed up this claim, saying that operators he's talked to are desperate to find employees.

"You have the pick of the job if you want it," Harmon said.

Attracting customers isn't the issue for Bullwinkle's. Harmon said the location has occasionally reached its 50% capacity and thus had to have people wait to get in.

"The pent-up demand for everyone to get out and play and go places will lighten up here in the next six months and staff will start to show up too. Let's hope by summer it stabilizes," Harmon said.

Restaurants also slowly seeing more business

Curry's Landing, one of the few restaurants in the Charbonneau community, relies on business from a population of residents that skews older and is more susceptible to serious illness from COVID-19. This was one factor that made keeping the restaurant afloat a challenge for owner Cindy Grier.

Trier said she'll sometimes place an order on the top of a customer's car so that there's no in-person interaction.

Meanwhile, she had to let much of her staff go for long periods during the pandemic and operate with just her husband. Sixty-plus-hour weeks have been the norm. Grier said she has owned three other restaurants and been in the business for 40 years, but has never experienced anything like this past year.

"I'm pretty careful with my money. It hasn't been easy. I've gotten PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) grants for loans. I'm doing everything I can to keep going," she said. "I'm hoping we don't have to close. I'm hoping it gets better. "Am I going to hold my breath? I'm not."

While revenue was down 40% in 2020, Grier has seen a recent uptick and is hoping the community will sit indoors as well as frequent the outdoor patio at the restaurant in the coming months depending on their comfort level.

"I think things are going to improve, but then they do every summer. Are we going to be back to a pre-pandemic situation? I don't think so this year. It will take another year," she said. "I think we will be steady this summer but I don't know you'll see the people out and about like you did three years ago."

Bo Kwon, the owner of Koi Fusion, similarly had to let most of his staff go last year and has hired back one manager. He said business, which was down over 50% in 2020, was up about 25% recently.

"I think it's the combination of the weather and people getting vaccinated. I think a lot of people are itching to do something and go out to eat outside of normal delivery services," he said.

Astley would like to see government regulations move out of the current capacity limits to allow restaurants to serve as many customers as they can while maintaining social distancing. Trier said the capacity inside her restaurant is limited to about 18 customers.

"As you continue to see more counties move down to extreme or high-risk to moderate or lower-risk categories, they have more capacity for indoor dining and, with the weather better, outdoor dining," Astley said. "We're starting to turn the corner but we're still not where it needs to be."

Curry's Landing Owner Cindy Grier's name was misspelled in a previous version of this story


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