Area businesses react to new Covid mandates issued by the governor

Brandon Mott, of the Diamond Gallery in Ontario, looks through a catalog of rings last week. Mott said the Covid pandemic made an impact on the local jewelry store early in the year but business picked up later (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – When Malinda Castleberry opened Mal’s Diner in Vale three years ago her goals were modest.

“It was to be a happy place, a place where everyone could go to find happiness over a meal,” said Castleberry. “You can’t do that over takeout.”

Now Castleberry is back to the drawing board after Gov. Kate Brown mandated a two-week pause that required bars and restaurants to revert to providing only takeout service.

Castleberry is like thousands of other small restaurant owners across the state who, once again, must be content with orders to modify their business plan even as the holidays arrive.

Castleberry said when she tossed the first hamburger patty on the big grill at her diner on A Street in 2017, she felt the timing was perfect for success.

“Everything was great, the economy was booming, and I expected a continuation of that. Now, we’ve been dished the horrible opposite,” said Castleberry.

She isn’t sure how long – even after the two-week pause ends – she will be able to survive.

“It will all depend. Closing down is always a risk during a long lock-down,” said Castleberry.

At the end of A Street, Sharon Bannon, owner of the Starlite Café, said the new two-week pause means a change of hours for her business and fewer customers.

“We used to open at 6:30 in the morning,” said Bannon. “But we decided to open later and stay longer.”

Now, said Bannon, the Starlite is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week during the pause.

Bannon said before the pause she collected about an average of $950 a day.

“That last two days it’s been $450 a day,” said Bannon.

At Vale’s Sagebrush Saloon & BBQ, owner Kat Hill expressed frustration with the two-week pause.

“You can’t win for losing. It is what it is so what can you do?” said Hill.

In Ontario, Angie Grove, co-owner of Mackey’s Steakhouse and Pub, said the pause will “definitely have an impact.”

“You just can’t do the business on takeout you do on sit down. It just doesn’t transfer,” said Grove.

Grove said Mackey’s takeout business actually stayed steady over the months since Covid hit.

“We’ve done more takeout even when we are open for business then we ever have in our history,” said Grove.

Grove said she remains cautiously optimistic about the future.

“We are definitely watching the numbers,” said Grove.

The two-week pause, though, forced Grove to lay off a large number of her 25 employees. Now, she said, her restaurant employs “five or six” staff.

“It is right before Christmas so I’d love to keep them all working. It is a big weight on our shoulders and they know it isn’t our fault,” said Grove.

Grove said the federal Paycheck Protection Program helped the restaurant stay afloat after the spring shutdown.

“Without that it would have been hard – really hard,” said Grove.

Still the financial impact from the Covid epidemic forced both Grove, and her husband Shawn, to seek full-time and part-time jobs to keep their family afloat.

“We’ve had a ton of community support but everyone is in a rough spot right now,” said Grove.

Tamara Carrell, manager of Romio’s Pizza & Pasta in Ontario, said she was discouraged with the new Covid restrictions because her business had “followed the rules.”

“We’ve gone above and beyond to do everything right. We have table space, no one is allowed in without a mask. So, we’ve done everything we were supposed to do and it feels like we are being punished for it,” said Carrell.

Carrell said Romio’s will “do what it can,” to stay alive. She said one advantage the restaurant has is the community has “been very supportive.”

At the Diamond Gallery, Brandon Mott said his store has “been lucky.”

He said the two-week pause probably won’t impact the jewelry store.

“People are not going on vacations so they are spending money on something else,” he said.

That, he said, includes diamond rings and watches and other jewelry.

“We are not at full capacity, but we’ve had a good year,” said Mott.

Back in Vale, Castleberry lamented the absence of the Vale 4th of July Rodeo – canceled because of state Covid restrictions.

The loss of the rodeo was especially hard for her business because typically proceeds from the event help her build a financial cushion to be used during slow winter months.

“This is really bad. We are closing Thanksgiving week, instead of just Thanksgiving Day, to try to reduce costs. We are also closing Christmas week,” said Castleberry.

Castleberry said she was worried about the future and more shutdowns.

“There may be no way to stay afloat for an extended period of time,” said Castleberry.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at 541-235-1003 or [email protected].

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