The Gallatin City-County Board of Health last week put several new restrictions in place in a move intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. But some fear that the restrictions will harm businesses’ bottom lines and, by extension, employees.
Those new restrictions mandate that bars, tasting rooms, distilleries, casinos and restaurants now must close at 10 p.m., opposed to the 12:30 a.m. closing time allowed previously. Six people can sit at one table, compared to 20 previously. And businesses that are considered high risk — bars, gyms, restaurants and coffee shops — all must reduce capacity from 75% to 50%.
Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Daryl Schleim said community health always comes first, but that the restrictions could have serious effects on the businesses most heavily impacted by the new closing time, like bars.
“It is devastating to the bottom line and there is no doubt in my mind that if this continues anytime after the first of the year, I think we will start to see a more traumatic affect on businesses, whether they decide to sell, stay open or close their doors,” Schleim said.
The written public comment for Friday’s meeting at which the restrictions were unanimously passed is over 470 pages, with hundreds of people voicing support and opposition to the rules. Some were concerned about the potential increase in house parties if bars close earlier than 12:30 a.m., something Schleim also pointed out.
“We, as a community, have to take some responsibility that we’re punishing our businesses if we’re not following the guidelines that have been put in place,” he said.
Schleim said that state or federal support could be a major help for businesses that may be facing layoffs or complete closures.
“We’re really hoping that the governor’s office will take a very hard look at the funding that they still have left before the end of the year to put something together for the hospitality industry,” Schleim said. “It’s unfair to isolate one group of businesses such as the hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and limiting them to hours and limiting them to space, but a lot of other businesses don’t have those same restrictions put on them.”
The Hospitality and Development Association of Montana, an unincorporated association with various hospitality-related businesses as members, also submitted a letter of public comment to the Gallatin City-County Board of Health, asking it to reconsider the 10 p.m. closure time.
“The reduction of hours for some of our employees would severely negatively impact their livelihoods and potentially their ability to continue to work in our establishments versus looking for employment with more consistent hours,” Jessie Luther wrote on behalf of the association. “No safety net exists for business owners now that all previously available federal and state programs and available dollars have been exhausted … With limitations on our operations and ability to serve patrons, several businesses may again be faced with permanent closure.”