When Liza Green heard that COVID-19 had been found in Blaine County, the only thing that surprised her was that it hadn’t happened sooner.
The Cafe Della owner and former Seattleite had spent the past several weeks watching the news as the novel coronavirus spread across Washington, and knew it was only a matter of time before it reached the Wood River Valley. Green and her business partner, Ashley Roop, had begun preparing their Hailey cafe for the worst.
And on Monday morning, two days after public health officials announced two confirmed cases of the virus in Blaine County, Green and Roop put their plan into action, closing the restaurant to dine-in guests—with a table barricading the door for good measure—and switching to a take-out-and-curbside-delivery-only system. On Wednesday, they plan to start offering no-contact home delivery for certain items.
With two Blaine County cases confirmed this weekend and a third announced Tuesday, Cafe Della is one of many businesses throughout the Wood River Valley adapting to the novel coronavirus. Some are closing altogether, while others switch to take-out and delivery models. Some are maintaining business as usual.
“We really do feel that it is our responsibly to feed people and to feed people quality, healthy foods, especially at a time like this,” Green said. “What we decided to do was get creative and think about how our customers need to be fed and how we need to meet them where they are right now.”
Other restaurants, such as the Grill at Knob Hill Inn, have also started offering take-out and curbside delivery. And the Mason family restaurants—which include Ketchum Grill, Town Square Tavern and Enoteca—are shifting to operating on an hour-to-hour, day-to-day basis.
The virus has affected local ski shops as well, especially in light of Sun Valley Resort’s decision over the weekend to close mountain operations.
“Business is important and we could probably keep doing it, but this is about the health of the community,” said Olin Glenne, managing partner at Sturtevants. “The quicker we get our arms around this and consolidate where our problems are, the better off we’ll all be this summer.”
Sturtevants announced over the weekend that it would be closed for at least a week, with the exception of accepting rental returns for several days at a few locations. PK’s Ski and Sports has closed its retail store, though the repair shop will stay open and people can still return rentals. And The Elephant’s Perch closed its doors Monday until further notice.
Backwoods Mountain Sports, like Cafe Della, is shifting to a delivery-based system. The store is closed to customers as of Tuesday, but will offer delivery and curbside rentals to customers who call ahead.
A challenge for the Backwoods leadership has been striking a balance between providing services to the community and keeping people safe, managing partner Paddy McIlvoy said. He said the goal is “trying to keep that social distancing while keeping in mind that getting outside is helping people relieve stress right now.”
As local businesses grapple with the effects of a global pandemic, Sun Valley Economic Development—whose vision is to create sustainable economic growth throughout the Wood River Valley—is shifting gears from monitoring long-term economic impacts to acting as a source of information for local businesses and business owners.
“We’re going to be more of a resource for businesses to talk to,” the organization’s director, Harry Griffith, said in a phone interview with the Mountain Express on Monday morning.
While Griffith said he could not speak to the long-term implications that the virus will have on the valley, he did say that the immediate implication is a direct financial hit to local businesses. He said that even though federal and state programs will be available, the depth and reach of those programs remains to be seen in Blaine County.
On Monday, Pioneer Saloon owner Duffy Witmer told the Idaho Mountain Express that it would be closed for the foreseeable future and begin offering take-out Thursday through Sunday beginning this week.
“It’s obviously a heavy decision to be made,” Witmer said.
The Pioneer Saloon, a staple in Ketchum since 1971, currently employs 50 people, with 75 percent of them full-time employees, according to Witmer. While he has been in contact with his insurance agency, Witmer said he does not know yet what sort of financial support will become available for his employees, adding that a few key employees will be taken care of, but that most should begin seeking unemployment benefits through the state.
Grumpy’s Burgers & Beer announced Tuesday that it would be closing its doors except for take-out orders.
“We don’t take this action lightly but we are also ‘not sorry we’re closed,’” the business’s Facebook page states.
The Warfield Distillery & Brewery also announced via Facebook that it would be closing its doors and offering to-go options.
“In the meantime, keep well and take care of each other,” the Facebook post states. “Slow down and savor the strange little silver linings that our new reality affords us.”
Grocery stores such as Atkinson’s Markets are offering limited delivery options, and said calls and emails should be made to specific locations to see what their process is.
“Although our delivery system isn’t robust enough to deliver to everyone, we will do everything in our power to provide to those in need, with seniors in our community receiving preference,” a Facebook post from Atkinson’s stated Monday.
The market continues to be open, with diligent cleaning procedures and the request that people who believe they are sick or may have been in contact with someone who is sick not come into the store.
Sun Valley Economic Development will be working in the coming days to establish local re-sources for businesses, Griffith said, and in the meantime it encourages community members to do all they can to continue supporting local restaurants and shops, whether by purchasing gift cards or ordering to-go meals.
Griffith said the most immediately impacted will be employees in the service industry who may not be financially positioned to go without a paycheck for an extended amount of time. SVED has begun talking to the Idaho Department of Commerce to discuss state and federal programs and will begin communicating with businesses on a weekly basis to provide resources and in-formation.
For now, most nonprofit organizations in the county are cutting back on events and instituting reviews on how to proceed, and events across the county are being postponed or canceled for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, Griffith said, the bright cloud in all of this is that the community was already preparing for slack, which would have set in when Sun Valley Resort was expected to conclude the ski season on April 12.
“It’s a month early,” he said. “If this was midsummer, it would be more severe.”
The guessing game of how long the community can stay afloat remains to be seen, though. If the economy dwindles for only one to two months, “we can probably scrape through,” Griffith said.
As for Cafe Della, Green said she doesn’t foresee reopening business as usual anytime in the near future. Unlike some other business owners in the valley, Green said, she doesn’t have the financial flexibility to close her cafe altogether. But for now, she and Roop plan to make things work with new, “creative” solutions—some of which, if they’re a success, may even end up being incorporated into the cafe’s regular business model down the road.
“This might be what our operation looks like for a couple months,” Green said. “Am I excited about that? Not really. But there is an upside to it for sure. And we’re trying to kind of see that silver lining and do what we can.”