Some restaurants in Skagit County have closed permanently this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, though a majority are still hanging on.
The Washington Hospitality Association, a trade group representing restaurants statewide, found in a survey that 51 food service establishments in Skagit County have closed permanently between March and September.
The association did not provide a requested list of specific restaurant closures by the newspaper’s deadline.
The Skagit Valley Herald has been able to independently confirm 10 permanent restaurant closures in the county.
Skagit River Brewery, which has operated for 25 years in downtown Mount Vernon, closed permanently earlier this month.
“The final straw was the last indoor dining ban in the middle of winter, with no real financial compensation from the government,” owner Mike Cavanaugh said last week.
The state offered $100 million in COVID-19 relief grants to businesses (up to $20,000 each) affected by the new restrictions, which began on Nov. 18 and have been extended through Jan. 4.
Grant applicants are expected to be notified of their status by Dec. 31.
Cavanaugh said the restaurant needed help sooner to be able to pay its bills and its employees.
While the brewery tried to pivot to takeout orders earlier this year, as a large, full-service restaurant it couldn’t survive on to-go business, he said.
“That kind of restaurant is the kind that is going to close,” Cavanaugh said.
Since the pandemic began, at least four other restaurants in Mount Vernon have closed permanently: Fireweed Terrace at Eaglemont, Mount Vernon Café, The Upcountry, and El Gitano.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom. The El Gitano closure allowed COA Mexican Eatery to expand into a larger space, and even new establishments, such as Temperate Habits Brewing Company in downtown Mount Vernon, opened over the summer.
In La Conner, Seeds Bistro & Bar, Whitey’s BBQ & Catering, and La Conner Sweet Shoppe closed over the summer, all citing challenges related to COVID-19.
In Sedro-Woolley, Liberty Bistro has closed. The Woolley Market closed in October due to COVID-19 restrictions, but has recently reopened as the Big Rock Woolley Market.
In Burlington, there have been no known permanent restaurant closures.
Anacortes Mayor and Gere-a-Deli owner Laurie Gere said she isn’t aware of any permanent closures in Anacortes, but many restaurants are operating on reduced hours and staffing. Some owners are not taking a paycheck, and none are making a profit, she said.
“Most have laid off employees because the volume of business does not exist,” she said in an email. “At this point it is a labor of love for their employees, their businesses and Anacortes.”
Concrete Mayor Jason Miller said he also doesn’t know of any permanent closures in the Concrete area, but many restaurants are “hanging on by their fingernails” and waiting for relief grants.
“It’s really, really dire,” he said.
After the state’s latest indoor dining ban took effect in November, the Lunchbox Diner in Mount Vernon closed temporarily to save money, said owner Steve Sewell.
“The cost of doing business was more expensive than the amount of money we were bringing in with takeout,” he said.
Sewell said he is prepared for the current restrictions to be extended past Jan. 4.
The business is hoping for a second relief grant or a Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan, which can be converted to a grant if the money is to keep the business afloat.
Relief for small businesses and their employees was included in the latest $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package passed by Congress on Monday, but that bill has yet to be signed by President Donald Trump.
Sewell said he is concerned that more small business closures will hurt the business community as a whole. If fewer patrons are coming downtown to dine, fewer are shopping at local stores, he said.
A frustration is that many small mom-and-pop businesses had to shut down while large retail stores have continued to operate. While grocery stores are limited to 25% capacity, Sewell said he doubts many big-box stores are enforcing the rule.
“I understand we need to control (the virus) and can’t win no matter what we do, but we need to have better help for small businesses, and try to make it a little more fair and equal,” he said.
In a Monday statement, Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, called the $900 billion relief package passed by Congress a “good down payment on relief for the hospitality industry.”
“In Washington State alone, the hospitality industry has lost $10 billion over the past nine months, and our operators are struggling,” he said. “The increase in unemployment benefits will be crucial relief for our teammates who are out of work, and the enhanced PPP loans will allow many businesses to stay afloat.”
In a December survey of restaurants in the state, the association noted that “46% of Washington operators say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now, if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government.”