Shutdown is making it tough for local businesses
Nobody knows how much longer Nome will be shutdown because of the Covid-19 threat, as city officials weigh the devastating effects of a throttled-down economy against public health concerns.
While local business owners and their employees understand what is at risk and are supportive of the measures taken to combat the epidemic a business can’t last forever with severely reduced revenue. Certain costs of doing business, such as rent, insurance, power, and heat aren’t going to go away like the customers have. How long can the restaurants and other retail operations in Nome ride it out?
Milano’s is one of Nome’s most popular restaurants. Owner Dave Ahn has all his employees’ hours cut in half. “Everybody is part time instead of full time,” said Ahn. A state mandate stipulates that restaurants can only do take out only. Fortunately, pizza is a popular take out food.
The Polar Cub’s Patrick Krier has put 14 employees on furlough and has a cook volunteering to help. “The minute they shut me down I lost 80 percent of my income,” said Krier. Take out makes up 15 to 20 percent of the gross normally, according to Krier. “But most of my income came from the bar.” As he said that, a customer came in and paid $21 for her take out. She also left a generous tip for the volunteer cook.
At the Husky Restaurant, owner Jand An let his one employee go. As with the other restaurants, only take out is allowed.
The large retail groceries are doing good business and a walk around the aisles shows freight is coming in, though some staples, such as eggs, are absent. At Hanson’s the young socializers in the entry way are gone, banished due to concerns of maintaining social distance.
RJ’s Auto Repair is fixing cars but you can’t get a latte at Bering Tea & Coffee while waiting for your new clutch to be installed. Bering Tea is shut down completely.
Bob Hafner is a solo gold miner and largely unaffected by the shut down. “I’m a lone gold prospector,” said Hafner. “We’ve been practicing social distancing since 1899. This whole COVID thing isn’t affecting me that much at my mining site. I can’t go to Builders and get stuff that I want so in that respect it is affecting me. But I’m still doing what I do. I’m prospecting for this year’s mine.” Hafner also manages Nome’s ice skating rink, which has been shut down.
While local businesses are scrambling to get in line to apply for loans under the CARES Act, with many yet having to find a bank or lender actually taking applications, Alaska Airlines has already claimed a piece of the federal $2 trillion pie. Alaska Airlines is the only airline providing passenger jet service to Nome. In a statement, the airline said that Alaska Airlines and the U.S. Treasury came to an agreement regarding the airlines participation in the Payroll Support Program, or PSP, under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Alaska and Horizon will get a total of $992 million, to be used for the cost of employee payroll and benefits. Of the $992 million in funding to be disbursed under the PSP, $267 million will be in the form of a loan and must be repaid to the government, meaning that the remaining $725 million will be forgiven. Additionally, the Treasury will receive the right to buy 847,000 non-voting shares of Alaska Air Group at a price of $31.61/share.