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Aubry Okayama

Calm down, Karen. This one might not even pertain to you. There appear to be two groups of people emerging from the “COVID is not a big deal” vs. “wtf is wrong with you people” rap battle that is consuming our calendar year.

The battle lines have been clearly drawn. One is either concerned about the health and safety of American citizens, or willing to sacrifice human lives to the vengeful deity that is the economy and there doesn’t seem to be any room between. People. Are. ON one about Mayor Berkowitz’s latest emergency order restricting dine-in services and closing bars. “He’s a crook for expanding patio service in establishments he is invested in before making the announcement!” “He is doing whatever it takes to keep Anchorage safe!” “Businesses will be forced to close and our economy will suffer!”

The truth is, both sides of the argument are creating problems.

I know that every person reading this has a spot and a person. That place they go to every Saturday night to turn up, the restaurant they meet the squad at every Tuesday after work for drinks and appetizers, the Sunday brunch that’s become as much of a staple in their routine as church, and a bartender or server that is no longer just a part of the experience but a genuine friend they look forward to catching up with when they stop by. No matter what your political views, most people care about at least one restaurant or bar. If there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree on in 2020, it’s that everyone wants to do their part to help the restaurant industry.

But are we going about it the right way?

If you haven’t noticed, some of the sensationalized side effects of politicizing bar and restaurant closures, here’s a quick recap: When operations were suspended in March, bars and restaurants took a big hit, which was exacerbated by the lack of tourism this summer. Most Alaskan restaurants and bars rely heavily on a bump in business during the summer months to survive thin winters relying solely on local traffic. When doors began opening again, it became clear to those in the food and beverage industry that political pressure had changed the market seemingly overnight. While some guests were appreciative of the extra precautions taken to abide by social distancing recommendations, others were more inclined to cause a scene or simply walk out the door. At the same time, pressure to close the gap between revenue loss and accrued debt increased alongside frustration with the unfortunate circumstances business owners kept finding themselves in at every turn, be that a media blast of possible exposure listings or a new and more strict mandate.

A few opportunistic business owners began loosening or altogether dismissing their house policies on social distancing which put pressure on others to do the same. As time moved on and fear of the virus gave way to desperation for a sense of normalcy and pressure to pay debts, other businesses began to slowly ease up on their policies as well. As COVID cases and frustrations continued to rise, a new competitive edge was established in which some businesses saw an increase in sales as a result of their lax policies while others appealed to the more cautious crowd. The median, of course, was able to drum up the most business while minimizing negative attention from the media.

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One problem that emerged was high-risk employees who wanted to avoid unemployment were being forced to choose between unsafe work environments or losing their unemployment for turning down work. It solidified that not everyone that wanted or needed to self-quarantine was able to. The simultaneous culmination of events added fuel to the growing political tension surrounding the restaurant and bar debate and patrons responded accordingly.

Despite a loud but small minority of people throwing caution to the wind, restaurant and bar sales are down in Anchorage in the worst way, and everyone has likely played a part. Perhaps you have contributed to bar and restaurant closures because you were so concerned with making your lifestyle a political statement that you’ve stopped going to places that require masks or signing into a guest log. Businesses and employees begged patrons not to do this. They posted on their Facebook pages urging people to follow social distance guidelines and many patrons simply would not. These types justified their actions by making it a political protest. They have protested what the government is doing to the economy by doing actual harm to the economy in what may be the weirdest flex of 2020.

Now here’s the part that might sting. The COVID-conscious people have contributed to the situation restaurants and bars have found themselves in, too. Some were so good at social distancing that they ate at home more often and had drinks in their backyard instead of at their favorite, local watering hole. Some were conscious of the fact that many restaurant employees may be high risk but do not have the option to stay home. (Cheers to them for that!) They thought they were being responsible and doing their part to keep case counts down. And they were. But by dining out less, they’ve let restaurant and bar sales drop below what is sustainable to keep the doors open. Whole staffs has been let go or had their shifts cut to reduce labor costs. Businesses are closing all around us.

Almost everyone is guilty of breaking the golden rule: No politics in the bar.

Here’s a little silver lining, though: It’s not too late to be proactive. People can be Covid-responsible, by keeping the community safe and still do their part to keep their favorite places in business and their favorite employees employed. They can stick it to Berkowitz’s nefarious plot to single handedly destroy Anchorage (if that’s the tea they’re drinking today) by stimulating the economy AND reducing the number of people forced into unemployment. They can even still see their favorite servers and bartenders when they stop in and... wait for it... order takeout.

I’ll say it louder for the conspiracy theorists in the back, ORDER TAKEOUT. If you don’t like what Emergency Order 15 has done to restaurants and bars, then keep your favorites from having to close permanently by ordering take out. If you’re concerned about health and safety, then keep yourself and the staff safe by ordering takeout. If you’re worried about the economy and are able to do your part to help keep the dollar strong and Alaskan businesses open, order takeout. If you don’t even care anymore if COVID is real or fake but you just want everything to go back to normal already, order takeout! Maybe you didn’t know you were flying the hypocritical flag of self righteousness and this column has opened an eye or two on what role you’re playing in the broad spectrum of destruction that is the COVID-19 pandemic. Treat yo self to some take out, and enjoy, knowing that you’ve done your part to help fight the good fight, whichever side of the argument you’re on.

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