Flu scare was bad for business
May 8, 2009
Most people reacted to the swine flu scare with an attitude of being safe rather than sorry. Unfortunately for local businesses, people being safe made them sorry.
Worry over the swine flu has largely dissipated and people are glad and relieved, but for businesses, the last two weeks were a bitter pill.
"As if things aren’t bad enough, now we’re just waiting for the locusts to arrive and the fire and brimstone to show up," joked Steve McComb, owner of three restaurants on May 1 while waiting for the first case in Summit County to be confirmed.
This time of year is slow for Park City anyway, and the recession is making it slower. Then fear of the flu came.
"When we should be down 10 to 15 percent, we’re down 50 percent," he said last Monday.
McComb said he thinks people are being overly cautious because they are "battered and bruised" by the winter we’ve had. Even if people aren’t afraid of the flu, they still can’t afford to get sick and miss a week of work so they stayed home.
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"I had the worst weekend I’ve ever had in 25 years," he said. "The number of dinners I sold at the Bistro wasn’t enough to pay my heating bill."
McComb decided to close Cisero’s until June 5 and do some remodeling. The other two restaurants get lunch as well as dinner business and have lower overhead, he explained.
Bill Malone with the Park City Chamber/Bureau was afraid last week that visitors would think everyone was taking McComb’s approach.
"With these types of things people get a misconception and read more into it than might be there, that we might not be open for business. People are going to shops, lodges, restaurants and are carrying forward with that," he said in a recent interview.
Although everyone was encouraged to take precautions, no meetings were cancelled and no crowded places were cleared, Malone said. The overwhelming reaction of the business community was to cautiously carry on with business as usual.
John Troilo of Davanza’s said his weekend was normal. Christian Schnurr at Squatters Roadhouse Grill said there was nothing different with head counts because of the flu.
Nancy Gray, general manager at Tanger Outlet Center at Kimball Junction said she saw a dip in traffic at the beginning of the scare, but it returned to normal.
Tim Barto at the Kitchen Collection at Tanger said he only wishes the height of the scare could have come mid-week. The confirmation of the flu case locally on Saturday cut their weekend sales in half and his shoppers stayed away on Sunday.
He thinks the school closures caused unnecessary panic.
Malone said it’s hard to judge the economic impact of the flu scare because the announcements last weekend created a kind of "perfect storm." The town is down anyway, so it’s tough to gauge if, or how much, the scare made a dent.
Bill White said he didn’t notice a difference at any of his restaurants. He’s more concerned about his dozen workers who returned to Mexico to renew their visas and can’t come back.
"They’re not sick, but the whole country closed down while they were down there. That’s our biggest concern," he said.
The silver lining of the situation is that it was an excellent fire drill, White said. In case a worse virus attacks in the future, the community has now taken stock of its supply of surgical masks, sanitizers, vaccine stores and the government’s emergency response readiness.
"This was a wake-up call. The bird flu never drove anybody to action. This was so close to home and it hitting in our town was a call to action," he said.
Katie Mullaly, spokesperson for the Summit County Health Department, said the county’s public health service program is so new that it’s still evolving. She said the county was careful to provide as much useful information as possible and follow guidance from the Center for Disease Control.
It was on the CDC’s recommendation that the school district closed schools, and then reopened them, explained Phyllis Robinson, spokesperson for Park City municipal.
They city wanted to err on the side of caution, but it’s also important to provide as much information as possible to prevent the spread of rumors.
"Whether it’s swine flu or a major snow event, we need folks to be informed and have accurate information," she said.