East Side businesses rely on community support during outbreak
It’s feast or famine for East Side businesses, like in many areas hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, but residents say the initial surprise has not, in most cases, led to fear. Instead, they say, people are relying on the strength of the community to carry them through an uncertain time.
The three Kamas Valley mayors have banded together to present a unified message to their communities, sending twice-weekly letters to try to get as much information to residents as they can.
Businesses that are allowed to stay open, like grocery stores, are reporting steady business and that they’re limiting how many items people can buy to make sure there’s enough to go around.
Businesses that have been impacted by the March 15 public health order that forced the closure of some businesses and restricted others, such as restaurants, say the new normal presents an existential threat.
And the early end for the tourist season has ripple effects on East Side businesses like dog-sledding operations and those that rely on traffic passing through to make ends meet.
Elected officials are calling on community members to support local businesses.
“What I’m hearing is that businesses are nervous about being able to stay in business with people not coming out,” Kamas Mayor Matt McCormick said. “The three mayors — (Oakley) Mayor Woolstenhulme, (Francis) Mayor Ames and I — sent out a letter telling people, go order some stuff and go to the drive-up restaurants. Go support your businesses because they’re important for our communities and we don’t want to lose them because of something like this.”
Steve Butler, who along with his wife Gin Butler runs the Road Island Diner in Oakley, said he’s felt the support from the community, but that it might not be enough for his business to survive.
Taking a break from freezing food that could be saved, Butler spoke about the effects of the coronavirus on his establishment and said he’s had some locals stop in to buy groceries like vegetables, milk or eggs but that the restaurant can’t survive on a couple hundred dollars per day. He added that he can’t prepare for dinner service normally because he doesn’t know how many meals he’ll need to cook. He and his wife are taking the opportunity to deep clean the restaurant and reassess.
“Part of me is really angry for the whole thing,” Butler said. “(But) part of me is thinking, if it’s not supposed to happen, it’s not supposed to happen.”
Butler said his operation isn’t well-suited to the new reality of curbside takeout and that he’s considering shutting down.
Butler said he had already ordered a normal week’s worth of food before the public health order came down, leaving him with a lot of perishable items. While he was cutting up the produce and freezing what could be frozen, Butler set aside some bacon, lettuce, tomato slices and sourdough bread for a regular customer who comes in nearly everyday for a BLT.
Butler said he planned to drop it off later at the man’s house.
“We’re truly a mom-and-pop business,” he said. “We had to let everybody go.”
Across the street from the diner, at Ken’s Kash Store, a small convenience store and gas station, cashier Tonya Vanzalinge reported that business was going well but that employees had stepped up store cleaning and that everyone was taking precautions.
She said the store was out of milk and eggs and toilet paper and that it would take steps to limit how much people could buy when they did receive a shipment.
The store was anticipating a roughly 12-hour delay in receiving its order.
“I think people are taking this pretty calmly,” Vanzalinge said. “More people want to help other people. … We have a good community here. They’re being really good.”
Oakley Mayor Wade Woolstenhulme said things in the city were pretty normal, considering the circumstances, and that Wednesday’s earthquake in Magna, which was felt throughout Summit County, might have contributed to a sense of fear more than the coronavirus has.
“We’re doing good, we’re doing good,” Woolstenhulme said. “If anything, people need to take things a little more serious.”
Oakley, Francis and Kamas have each passed local emergency declarations that allow the municipalities to qualify for state and federal aid and ease some restrictions on operations like holding open meetings.
In Hoytsville, March 15 was the first Sunday in a long time the Hoytsville Second Ward hadn’t gathered to worship at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meeting house except when something like a particularly bad snowstorm prevented travel, according to bishop Samuel Donaldson.
“I don’t get the sense of fear from the community or from our ward, just a sense of surprise that it’s being taken as serious as it has,” Donaldson said. “I think we’re all being respectful, want to take it seriously, not take it lightly. Surprised everything shutting down as it has.”
The Foodtown in Kamas was restricting patrons from purchasing more than two of any item, and Woodland resident Tom Clyde reported store shelves were bare.
“The entire frozen veggie selection is down to okra,” Clyde wrote in an email. “Even the lima beans are sold out.”
The toilet paper stash appeared intact for the moment, he added.
Kristin Wade owns Mirror Lake Station, the gas station in Kamas that sells award-winning donuts. She said she’s developed protocols in recent days to return the business to normalcy like taking everything out of cases and having employees retrieve the donuts.
“For the most part the community’s been awesome, have people come in, know procedures,” Wade said. “For the most part, people have been great, not panicking, said they’d die without their fountain drink and donut to get the morning started.”
Katie Stellpflug owns Artique, an art gallery in Kamas. She said things have been slow but that she’s planning to stay open, though she’s careful to limit crowds to fewer than 10 people and is considering canceling an upcoming artist event.
“We reopen again tomorrow and I don’t know if I should be open or not,” Stellpflug said Wednesday. “I’d just encourage people who can support the local economy any way you can — you hear about buying gift cards and things like that — it’s helpful at this time to help keep us afloat in the future, but I know that’s a hard ask for people in the community who might be out of work.”
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It was an important decision since the rest of the talks will be heavily influenced by the processing option selected by the Planning Commission on Wednesday.