New safety regulations for restaurants announced Tuesday by Gov. Jay Inslee are a step in the right direction, but won’t help a whole lot, according to many local restaurant owners.
Instead, the lifeline that restaurant owners said they need is another round of loans from the federal government.
Mark Matthias, owner of Beaches Restaurant & Bar and a member of a Clark County restaurant owners group called Restaurant Roundtable, has been urging the state government to ease regulations, including changing the minimum table party size from five to six guests, scrapping the same-household rule and pushing closing hour from 10 to 11 p.m.
“I think the state did a good job working with the restaurant industry,” Matthias said. “It helps because it clarifies a lot. I think it will definitely help restaurants’ revenue a little bit.”
However, Eric Sawyer from the Vancouver consulting firm BBSI said that the greatest help for restaurants by far would be another round of federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, which ended in August.
Two other small grants from local government will help, but not as much as the federal aid, he said. One of those grants, from the Columbia River Economic Development Council, will give up to $10,000 to businesses with 10 to 20 employees. The other grant, from a partnership with the city of Vancouver, Clark County and Mercy Corps, will give up to $10,000 to local business owners with five or fewer employees.
“It’s enough that it’s going to be helpful, but not enough,” Sawyer said, stressing that more PPP loans “will be life or death for a number of restaurants and businesses. There’s no question.”
The application window for those two grants has closed, but a similar business grant from the Washington Department of Commerce was announced Wednesday. That grant will give up to $10,000 to Washington small businesses with 20 or fewer employees.
Bryan Shull, the owner of Trap Door Brewing, said that ending the same-household rule was helpful for restaurants, saying there was no way to enforce it.
“It takes a little bit of the burden off our minds,” he said.
Increasing the table size from five to six guests will only help slightly, said a handful of restaurant owners including Deb Belden, owner of Farrar’s Bistro in Felida.
“I think it helps because now we’re able to have couples come in and hang with each other,” she said.
Multnomah County in Oregon allows party sizes of up to 10, so Clark County businesses are still losing that market under the new restrictions announced Tuesday.
“I wish it was more, but given that cases were up last weekend, I’m happy,” Sawyer said.
COVID-19 cases have been trending up. Clark County had 38 new cases, according to data released Wednesday. The county remains in the “high” COVID-19 activity measurement from the Washington State Department of Health for school reopening.
Local business owners are still unsure when Clark County Phase 3 will hit, certainly not until the rate decreases. That state “Safe Start” program has been put on hold by the governor until further notice, leaving Clark County in Phase 2.
“Even if we went to Phase 3 with 75 percent (capacity in restaurants), the funding is the most critical thing,” Sawyer said.