Missoula bars and restaurants form alliance; concerns of surviving winter season
Owner of the local restaurant Rumour, Colleen Powers has been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic with less and less people eating at her tables as the holiday season begins.
With the ongoing enforcement of county and statewide restrictions, Powers said there has been a “scare factor” to eating out during the pandemic. However, she said most restaurants offer a safer experience than other options, and the public should know that.
“I think if they know more about what our bars and restaurants are doing to provide a safe place to go, then they are more likely to come,” Powers said. “And it’s much safer coming into our restaurants and bars than it is going into a house party, or even going into a grocery store.”
Powers joined an alliance of more than 70 local restaurants and bars whose mission is to help the public know of the safe nature of restaurants and bars. The alliance, known as Revive Missoula Bars and Restaurants (RMBR), aims to educate the “community on how bars and restaurants create controlled environments to help mitigate spread.”
According to a recent survey of RMBR group members, 50% of bars or restaurants won’t be able to survive the winter and the holiday season under current conditions. That’s in addition to roughly 8,000 employees and community members who will be impacted by the loss of revenue this year, the organization states.
RMBR spokesperson Erika Peterman said the alliance came together due to a shared struggle between the businesses.
“This industry is just getting killed,” said Peterman of Missoula law firm Sova Partners. “We're in the pandemic and I get it, but I think that they we're just feeling like they had nothing but what they were doing individually when working. And so I think that we're all suffering in the same way, and therefore we're all being impacted by this in the same way.”
The alliance is meant to act as a liaison between the Missoula City-County Health Department and businesses, acting as one voice for them all.
“We wanted to just streamline having conversations with the health department to try and figure out if there was something that could be sustainable going forward, especially in uncertain political trends,” Peterman said.
At the start of November, Peterman said the group was working closely with the health department to work on restrictions that would be agreeable for both businesses and the Missoula Health Board.
In the end, the collaborative restrictions were recommended to the Board of Health, but were canceled by Bullock’s statewide restrictions announced Nov. 17. With the bolstering of statewide restrictions, RMBR desires “consistency” in regulations that won’t further negatively impact operations.
“There’s uncertainty regarding what's going to happen when (Greg) Gianforte takes office and what’s going to happen in the next couple months,” Peterman said. “This group can work with the health department and figure out what restrictions that protect the community and doesn't damage their industry too hard.”
While there have been closures of bars due to COVID-19 in November, Peterman said they want to prove that all businesses in the alliance set and follow the highest standard of safety possible.
For Rumour and other local businesses, that has meant following the increased sanitization measures required, but it has also meant creating and repurposing outdoor spaces for the winter.
Powers said they were opening up part of Rumour’s dining room to the patio for the winter using garage doors that could open to their patio.
“So what we're hoping to do is create our own mega outdoor igloo by just using our own dining room that we can open up and then put these heaters out there and a couple fire pits as well.”
This is in addition to an upgraded ventilation system designed for improved air quality.
Even while Rumour has seen some revenue from their catering and delivery options, Powers still wants to see dining in viewed as a safe option as revenue created by other options aren’t enough on their own.
“You see some success, but it's not enough to be sustainable,” Powers said. “You know it's not close to what we see from dining in, and Uber (Uber Eats) takes 30%. So I mean it's a large portion of your revenue.”
Peterman recommended purchasing gift cards if people are still nervous about dining in.
“This is usually the time of year when bars and restaurants make a lot of their money that sustains them through January, February and March months,” she said.