As the state lifts restrictions, some Juneau bars and restaurants aren’t rushing to reopen

A mostly empty Franklin Street in 2015 in downtown Juneau. (Creative Commons photo by jcsullivan24)

The state is taking more steps toward fully reopening its economy. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has put together a plan that now allows many public facilities like pools and museums to reopen.

It’s also expanding the number of people who are allowed to dine at restaurants. And, after seven weeks of being closed, bars are officially allowed to open their doors.

But the City and Borough of Juneau has opted out of reopening public facilities for now, and many business owners in Juneau say that while the COVID-19 closures have devastated their businesses, they’re not rushing to open their doors, either.

In part, that’s because there are new rules to operating. Restaurants must keep tables 10 feet apart to comply with social distancing requirements. There are also limits on the number of people who can be inside at any given time. For restaurants, they can operate at 50% capacity. For bars, it’s 25%.

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Some business owners, like Rick Kasnick, are all in. Kasnick is the majority owner of the Island Pub, a gourmet pizza restaurant and bar.

Technically, restaurants were allowed to open for dine-in service two weeks ago — but at just a quarter of overall capacity. Kasnick said that didn’t make sense for his business.

“We’d have had like, four tables. And we’d have had to bring on basically our full staff to get, you know, janitors and dishwashers, the whole nine yards,” he said. “It was a losing proposition. Fifty percent, we can make a little bit of money off of.”

The Sandbar and Grill opened its restaurant for dine-in service two weeks ago, but even at a quarter-capacity, they haven’t had a lot of people choose to sit in the restaurant.

In downtown Juneau, many bar owners said they won’t be reopening right now — for a lot of reasons.

Rob Daniels at the Imperial Saloon said they need some time to turn on all of the utilities and finish some social-distancing remodeling.

David McGivney at the downtown McGivney’s Sports Bar and Grill said reopening is too risky for the health and safety of staff and customers, because it’s hard to tell who has COVID-19 and who doesn’t. And even at half capacity, it doesn’t pencil out financially for them to reopen.

Eric Forst at the Red Dog Saloon, a restaurant and bar in downtown Juneau, said they have to figure out if they can even get enough staff to reopen.

And money is a problem.

Tracy LaBarge owns three downtown Juneau restaurants: Tracy’s King Crab Shack; Saffron, an Indian cuisine restaurant; and Salt, a fine dining restaurant and bar.

When the restaurants had to close, she said they donated most of their food to keep it from going bad.

“For us, it’s having enough money to actually buy inventory to get back open. Not to mention pay rent and back rent and everything else. So until we get funding, there’s nothing I can really do,” she said. “It’s a pretty bad situation, to be honest.”

Many restaurants and bars have shifted their business models to allow for curbside pickup of food and alcohol and say they’ll keep doing that for now.

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