Many Ketchikan businesses are reopening this weekend, albeit cautiously. KRBD spoke with several business owners as they work to comply with Phase 3 of the state’s “Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan,” and welcome customers back to their establishments.
Things are starting to get back to normal at the Plaza Mall on the Ketchikan’s West End.
“We’re slowly opening back up,” Judy Zenge, the Plaza’s manager, said in a phone interview Thursday. The shopping center largely shut down on March 21 as Ketchikan’s outbreak grew.
The mall started the reopening process on April 24 with limited hours. But with no known cases in Ketchikan since April 20, the Plaza is getting closer to business as usual.
“So now Friday [May 22], we will be open regularly nine to five, Monday through Saturday,” she said.
At first, the mall required masks — signs proclaimed in red text, “No Mask, No Entry,” But on Friday, those signs were replaced with new ones that read, “Masks Recommended.”
Zenge says she’s still strongly encouraging shoppers to wear face coverings — just as Phase 3 of the state’s 4-part plan recommends — but it’s now up to the mall’s tenants to make their own rules.
“Many of my tenants are not requiring masks, so we felt it was kind of — we’ll just let them do that at their own discretion,” she said.
Things at the mall aren’t totally back to normal: the public restrooms are closed, cleaning crews are wiping down frequently-touched surfaces and management isn’t allowing “mall walkers” — Zenge says she’s trying to make sure everyone is able to maintain a safe distance from other patrons. Some offices remain closed as employees work from home. And Zenge also recently announced the mall wouldn’t host Fourth of July festivities.
Over at the Pizza Mill in Ketchikan’s Newtown neighborhood, management is taking things a little slower. Vincent Inoncillo is the restaurant’s manager and part-owner.
“When the first case broke out, we just decided, well, we don’t know who else might have been in contact with this person, or if there’s anybody else,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “So what we’re going to do right now is we’re just going to shut down.”
He said the Pizza Mill stayed closed for about a week. When it reopened, service was limited to curbside pickups and deliveries.
And Inoncillo said even as the state says he can reopen his dining room at full capacity, he’s planning to stay the course for a little while longer.
“As much as we want to open up for dine-in, it’s just — we’re just trying to play it safe right now,” he said.
He says it’s all about minimizing his and his employees’ contact with customers who may or may not be taking proper precautions.
“So instead of having customers come in and not knowing where they’re coming from or who they’ve been in contact with, the one thing we can control is where we’re going and who we are in contact with,” he said.
A couple miles north on Tongass Avenue, the Landing Hotel is the home of two restaurants, The Landing Restaurant and Jeremiah’s Pub. Co-owner Terry Wanzer said he’s been following the state’s guidance for reopening.
At first, the two eateries were allowed to operate at 25% capacity with 10 feet between parties. Two weeks later, that was raised to 50% capacity. But Wanzer says that didn’t make much difference.
The restaurant and pub can usually seat upwards of 200 people between them. But with spacing restrictions, the combined total maxed out closer to 30.
“That doesn’t allow you to put your staff in action,” he said. “It doesn’t allow you to seat enough people to keep — well basically, keep the lights on.”
Coronavirus-related travel restrictions mean business on the hotel side of things is tough — he says only about 10% of the Landing’s rooms are occupied these days.
So Wanzer says he’s excited to get back closer to normal. Even without tourists in town, he says the Landing’s restaurants have a significant local following, and he’s gotten good feedback from customers so far.
But he says he’s worried about what business will look like this fall.
“Well, how many people are going to be able to survive in business? You know, you have the different loan programs. Now, the [Permanent Fund Dividend] is going to come out in July and you have some stopgap situations right now,” he said. “But when that runs out, […] then what’s going to happen?”
That question is surely on the minds of many Ketchikan business owners as they deal with the pandemic’s broader effects on Alaska’s economy.
KRBD’s Maria Dudzak contributed reporting.