Restaurants and retailers brace for new COVID-19 restrictions

SEATTLE — Washington’s new, four-week ban on indoor dining takes effect just after midnight Wednesday.

“It feels more punitive that we’re using this giant bazooka against this one industry,” said Chad Mackay, CEO of Fire & Vine Hospitality, which includes El Gaucho.

“We’re going to go from over 200 employees down to about 30, and I want the governor to understand that those 170 people are not going to have a great Thanksgiving and, most likely, not a great Christmas,” he said.

Mackay would have preferred Gov. Jay Inslee roll restaurants back from 50% to 25% capacity.

Mackay said with distancing protocols and commercial ventilation, restaurants are safer gathering spots than private homes.

In addition to no indoor dining, the governor’s order prohibits indoor gatherings, closes gym and fitness centers and restricts retail and grocery stores to 25% capacity.

Retail stores were already at 30% capacity, and the head of the state’s retail association said that actually kept shoppers from spreading out.

“What it’s actually doing is keeping people teed up outside of stores in the mall open areas,” said Renee Sunde, of the Washington Retail Association.

“This is going to have a lot of reverberating effects through the economy,” said University of Washington economist Jacob Vigdor.

He sees retailers and restaurants suffering during the holiday season but also said, “The governor’s restrictions play some role in this, but the governor is not all-powerful. People were starting to cut back anyway because people could see that cases are skyrocketing.”

Ivar’s already had to put two Seattle restaurants into hibernation for the winter.

The company is planning to expand outdoor seating in Mukilteo after the new indoor dining ban.

“We’re disappointed that it had to be done — mostly because, unlike the spring, there is no federal program to support our employees,” said Ivar’s President Bob Donegan.

With no federal stimulus program and no sign that one is coming, Vigdor agrees this round of layoffs will be different.

“That helped us get through the economic hit; it helped us survive,” he said.

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