Letter | Local small business owners may lose life’s work during state Stay Home order

[This is a reader-submitted letter written on May 1st. Certain data noted may have changed since submission. Letters to the Editor can be submitted to info@livingsnoqualmie.com]

Dear Editor,

The general public has very little idea how hard the restaurant business is and how tight profit margins are. I would also argue that the general public knows very little about how hard it is to run a small business, period.

Small businesses turn into big business, the types of businesses you might work for now.

Do you know what it is like to create your job and create your income each and every day? Not just show up and do your job, but to create it for yourself and for your employees each day? Oh, and let’s not talk about the hundreds of thousands of dollars we had to invest just to create our jobs here.

I have been accused of wanting Washington to reopen and putting profits before lives. My ex-husband Sean has worked in the restaurant business for 35 years. I worked in the business for about 12 years. In Issaquah we opened the Flat Iron Grill 13 years ago. Then The Black Duck Cask and Bottle five years ago. Then Sean opened The Iron Duck in North Bend two years ago.

Not only has Sean lost his income, but he is losing his life’s work. If the restaurants close for good (I refuse to say fail because that seems to imply he/we “failed”), it is not just a job being lost. It is also an asset that can be sold to fund retirement years down the road. Self-employed small business owners do not get employer-funded 401Ks; no Amazon or Microsoft stock options; and no guaranteed incomes; no paid vacation weeks. We don’t even get health insurance – I pay $720 a month for the kids and myself. We’re struggling even get PPP funds to stay afloat.

It’s shocking for most people to learn how little business owners pay themselves, but not me. We have been there. Could you live on $400 a week to start your business? The hours are long. You work holidays so that your guests can have special days with their families.

In the 16 years Sean and I were together, he took one Valentines Day (also my birthday) off and I remember it was such a crap show that he never did it again.

Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving, New Years Eve, Mother’s Day – and the list goes on. I have seen Sean work 100 hours a week for both his employers and for his own restaurants. He fixes the equipment when it breaks and he cannot afford to have it fixed. He pours drinks, runs the sauté line, washes dishes when the dishwasher doesn’t show. He snakes the drain when the grease traps back up. He unclogs the toilets when they break and he lays awake when he is worried that he won’t have the money to make payroll.

I once did the math when he worked for Daniel’s Broiler and it was barely minimum wage back then (long before it was $15/hr). Let’s put all that aside and talk about the 107 people he employs. 107 families that rely on him. Many people have lost their jobs and that’s equally heartbreaking, but he carries the weight of 107 families – plus his own.

I ask you, do you have 108 families relying on you? I will guess that many of you do not. So please, do not accuse me of putting profits before life in my desire to reopen Washington. We have every right to keep our livelihood going. I am angry and frustrated.

Yes, COVID19 is not anyone’s fault. Yes, the early stay home was good to keep our numbers down as we did not know much about this virus. We were asked to flatten the curve and we did. I implore you to look at the data and look at it from the source (the CDC). Keeping the lock down going until May 31st is not supported by the data.

We are likely looking at June before we can reopen our restaurants. Sean will need $75,000 – $100,000 just to restock food, wine and liquor. I will spare you the conundrum that PPP funds create – should we ever get them – but I will give you some details. If we get them, Sean has to give all his employees their jobs back by July. We are excited about this. Oh, but wait, we can only open at 50% capacity. Let’s do that math… Would you give up $1200 a week to stay home in order to work at 50% capacity? And wait, if those PPP funds are used for restaurant restocking, that portion is not forgivable. It is a no win situation.

It is simply not possible to survive on take out orders alone for months. That being said, I do want to thank our regulars who have come out in droves to help keep us afloat. Buying take out, breakfast sandwiches and filling their growlers with beer. The other day I took the kids down to drop them with Sean at the Duck. A regular came in to buy a growler of beer while we were there. He tipped $100. We love and appreciate that, but Black Duck is now closed on Sundays because Sean cannot work 7 days a week. He and two guys do it all right now.

I do not see how Sean can possibly survive this. I just do not see it, yet somehow, as I become more vocal about reopening Washington, I have hope that he will survive. We need small businesses. Our people need jobs and we have taxes to pay. After all, who do you think is going to pay for all this economic stimulus? We will. You will.

So please, before you accuse me of profits before lives, I ask you to look at the data – look at the CDC numbers. They are way down. Then put yourself in the shoes of a small business owner being forced to shut down.

The “medicine” has become worse than the sickness. 

Sincerely,

Barb Pexa

Comments

  1. Craig Good says

    Thank you for writing this in and thanks to Living Snoqualmie to be brave enough to publish it! I’ve contacted my representatives this week and plan to continue asking to reopen sooner. Cheers!

  2. Mayor Matt Larson says

    Thank you, Barb. I wish more businesses would be willing to tell their stories of severe hardship. Unfortunately, you are not alone and your story is all to common throughout the Valley. We are NOT all in this together. The sacrifices being asked of a few are significantly greater than the rest of us. Please know that I have been working with great leaders like Sen. Mark Mullet to SAFELY get as many businesses back to work as soon as possible. As a small business owner himself, and while serving on the Governor’s back to work study committees, he has been a welcome voice of reason. We must strike a reasonable balance if we are to get through this health–AND economic–crisis over the long haul.

  3. The entire lock down/ martial law reaction form the governor was asinine. I’m shocked everyone
    passively accepted it, especially when he tried it push it off as “science”. Never before in human history has such a sweeping draconian restriction been placed on so many at one time. We’ve quarantine the sick for hundreds of years successfully, That is what we should ave done and gone about our lives rather than destroy the planetary economy resulting in increased poverty and far more death. Which, I believe, was not our stated objective.

    • I’m shocked Texas and Idaho went along with it. I’m not surprised at all states like Washington, California, Oregon, New York, and Illinois did. Look at how the people here have been voting for the past decade and tell me they’re not mindless sheeple looking to be nannied by the government from cradle to grave.

      The data never supported any of this. Only a tiny fraction of infections are ever tested. Widespread antibody testing has been showing as many as 40x more past infections than “the official numbers,” which makes true mortality rate well under 1%. Public health officials even openly admit to counting clearly non-COVID deaths as COVID if the person also tests positive. Even this very site was manipulating data. Initially, they posted a mortality rate chart broken into 10 year age brackets. But there were no deaths of anyone under 59 I believe. So they reposted one by 20 year age brackets to make this scarier for people down to age 40. Disgusting.

      The media found an excuse to incite a panic, and the government found an excuse to test how willingly the people would forfeit their rights. It’s all about control, not safety. Look no further than the video from California of the local government filling in a skate park with sand. Or the Texas salon owner who was jailed after opening only because she would not personally apologize to the judge himself. Peaceful protesters being arrested in Idaho.

      Petty, juvenile, absolute control. Bend the knee, serf. Or else.

  4. Franco Phillips says

    I’m living the exact same nightmare. I’ve met Sean and was instantly impressed by him. He is an asset to the small business and restaurant scene and I pray we all get through this and back to the old normal. ~Franco Phillips, The Melrose Grill

  5. Laura A Scheffer says

    I am not a business owner, but it breaks my heart to see the struggles of small business owners and citizens everywhere. I wanted to share a source for you from a radio show, Fresh air with Terry Gross. She interviewed the chief Tom Colicchcio, longtime activist on issues of hunger relieve and food chain problems. He has formed the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which is lobbying for help for small local restaurant owners. https://www.saverestaurants.com/. I don’t if this can help but I can only support in a way I am able. You are appreciated.

  6. “Keeping the lock down going until May 31st is not supported by the data.”
    The disease is still highly contagious, and kills 7% of the people it infects. Staying in quarantine works to reduce the chances of direct infection.
    You might want to open. But until customers want to come back for a sit-down dinner in a restaurant crowded with other people, that might not happen.

    My family enjoys eating out, typically once a week. We stopped that in March. And even if the shelter-in-place restriction is lifted, we’re not likely return to restaurants anytime soon.

    As far as “never been done,” yes, we’ve had similar restrictions in the past. The 1918 Kansas City flu (mislabeled “Spanish Flu” because only Spain reported the disease with any real data) led to extreme measures of isolation and masking. When the restrictions were lifted too early, the flu came back and killed far more people.

    We had restrictions in World War II in the PNW that were entirely unnecessary as we were not likely to be attacked. The East Coast–sure. But the entire nation was under curfews and lockdowns at times. We rationed things not even connected with the war effort in order to remain focused on the war effort.

    Shelter in place is hard, even impossible for some. That’s no exaggeration. But allowing people to congregate in the open, in a place where masks aren’t feasible (how do you eat while wearing a mask?) is extremely risky to the patrons of the restaurant or bar or sports facility or church building.

    We’re seeing a decline in cases due to faithful implementation of the shelter-in-place order. Lifting the quarantine now, when we’re barely over the hump is like saying once the fire department comes the fire goes out. The fire is still going, and the fire department is still working. We’re not completely done yet, and we’re not far enough along to re-open public places of congregating.

    • > The disease is still highly contagious, and kills 7% of the people it infects.

      Good grief, it’s these types of false stats that cause the panic. Consider that NY state has a death rate far greater than any country in Europe. Consider top countries in Europe and their deaths per 1M population:

      Belgium: 756
      Spain: 576
      Italy: 511
      UK 482

      Now, New York State is at 1396! Far worse than any country in the EU by a mile. For comparison, Florida is 83, California is 72 and Texas is 40. In other words, NY isn’t remotely close to anything anywhere in the world. NY is terrible beyond words.

      But what is the real death rate in NY? Well, we know that New York has had 27K deaths. And we know there are 348K confirmed cases. That gives your infection fatality rate (IFR) of 7%. However, that figure misses the number of people that actually had covid. The NYT reported on on Apr 23 that 15% of the state’s residents have had covid. That means our of the 20M living in the state, some 3M have had covid. And out of that, some 27K have died. In other words, an IFR of 0.9%.

      And remember, NY was an extreme outlier–it was a city that actively encouraged everyone to ride the subway and gather in large groups for lunar new year in spite of the infection spreading silently. NY state didn’t close schools until 16th of March! Just 10 days later, they would have 38K confirmed cases–it exploded right under their nose. Also, NY failed to protect their most vulnerable. In a state where there is enormous regulation and oversight, NY stood by and watched while their elderly residents were obliterated. In fact, NY was sending, as a matter of policy, people that had been confirmed with covid into nursing homes that had no covid patients. That ensured the old people that weren’t sick got sick.

      NY’s mismanagement in all this is absolutely beyond words. But even then, the true IFR wasn’t anywhere as bad as you claim.

      Now, if that was New York, what are we looking at in Washington state?

      We’ve had 17K confirmed cases and 1000 deaths. An IFR of 5.8%. But again, that doesn’t tell the full story. While WA state hasn’t done any randomized antibody testing like NY has that I’m aware of, LA and other coastal cities have, and the disease prevalence is around 4% or so. So, while WA state has 17K confirmed cases, our true number of cases is likely closer to 4% of 7M, or 280K. With 1000 deaths. That gives an IFR of 0.3%.

      But as with NY, the deaths are weighted against the old. Just 10% of the deaths in WA stated occurred in those under 60.

      That moves the IFR to roughly 0.03% for those under 60.

      Remember, WA state loses about 500 people a year to car accidents, and alcohol is NOT involved in most of those. If half our state gets covid (3.5M people), we’d expect to see 1000 people under 60 die. And around that point, covid would become more dangerous to the average person under 60 than a car crash. But nobody expects anywhere near half the state to catch covid.

      If you are under 60, then cowering inside because you might die from covid is strange because you are more likely to die in normal times from a non-alcohol related car crash. And if you met someone in 2019 that said “I stay in my house because I’m afraid if I leave I will die in a car crash” you’d think the person needed serious mental help.

      Covid is bad, but we will lose far more people under 60 to drugs and depression related to their livelihood being destroyed. Every year WA state loses about 1100 people to suicide. Most are in the prime of their life. The economic destruction from covid will surely cause more under-60 deaths than the disease itself. And that doesn’t include drugs.

      Worse still, the WHO is estimating massive food shortages later this year as the world’s biggest food producers (US and EU) have other battles. This means some 300,000 dying per day from around the world from starvation because the EU and US failed to produce enough surplus.

      I know this virus seems very scary and that feels like we’re preventing death by cowering inside. But it’s just the opposite. The death toll from cowering will far exceed the death toll from getting back to normal. If you want to see families destroyed and more 20, 30 and 40 year olds die, then demand more lock down. If you want to see the WHO estimates on global starvation come true, then refuse to go back to work.

      If you are under 60, I’m sorry, but the world needs you to get back to producing. It won’t be perfect, but it will save lives. I know what you are doing feels like it is helping, but it’s not. And god help us all if the WHO starvation numbers materialize. In just 3 days of famine we could lose more to starvation in the late summer than the entire world loses to covid in a year. And those the WHO are predicting will be lost will be mostly young and unable to fight for their food. And they are predicting it could last months.

      • Michael Frank Gentile says

        Well put. I couldn’t agree more, but your well chosen words fall on deaf ears. We’re not dealing with statistics, virology, epidemiology, medical science, or even reason here. We’re dealing with POLITICAL SCIENCE. Covid-19 is a political agenda at work. Nothing more than a typical flu virus and a great deal of hot air.

        Great piece though. Well researched and well presented. Under any other circumstances you would change minds. Thank you for your level headed reason.

    • Pat Smith says

      Your post is too long, but your estimate of 7% death rate is ridiculous as we don’t even know yet how many people have had Covid-19 and never reported it because they were asymptomatic or mildly ill not requiring a doctor visit. Even doctor visits were diagnosed as the flu etc. They have estimated now that this virus was among us as early as November of last year.

  7. Elizabeth says

    I am a small restaurant owner in Pierce county, and we feel exactly the opposite of this. We will not be opening anytime soon, as we do not wish to endanger ourselves, our family, our employees or our guests. We are content to offer our foods for pick up or delivery, with ourselves as the only crew in a completely isolated business until there is virtually no chance of getting the virus. At this time, our employees are all doing fine on unemployment and we are selling enough to cover our bills. We appreciate our governor making decisions that put virus prevention as a top priority. We don’t believe that most folks will be willing to expose themselves by eating out in restaurants anytime in the near future anyway, and we are looking for new ways to provide a fine dining experience for folks to enjoy in their own homes. It’s not time to reopen…it’s time to get creative.

  8. Right from Johns Hopkins today
    Fatality rate 6.9%
    It’s highly contagious, with the typical infected person, unrestrained/unmasked, infecting 2 people.
    A church in Canada in March had a going away dinner for a member. The servers were gloved. They practiced social distancing. They kept care.
    41 people got sick. 2 have died. They did everything they could to be safe except the simplest, easiest solution: they should have stayed away.

    The same story at funerals, wakes, private dinners, celebrations. Even the recent protests at the Wisconsin State Captiol resulted in 70+ confirmed cases of COVID-19.

    I think restaurants are hit hard by this, no lie.

    I don’t think the answer is to put people in restaurants and assure them that they can go back to normal. We’re not there yet. We have no vaccine, and the only thing that works to keep the disease from spreading right now is social distancing.

    I’m also sure people will feel safe and will go out. And then we’ll have the second wave, like we did with the Kansas City flu in 1918 where way more died because people thought it was over.

    I’m not going to risk my health. I’m not a “warrior” for the economy. I have family at home at high risk, and I’ll take care of them, first.

    Those of us who want to get back together socially and just do what we were doing before the 2nd week in March are going to do it. But it’s not a safe bet.

    For right now the safe bet is staying at home and going out as little as possible.

    • No, the actual death rate is well under 1%. LA County and NY State antibody tests proved this weeks ago. See the very long post above which broke it all down very well. Oregon has its first round of antibody tests back and is too afraid to publish them because they destroy support for lockdowns and the reputations of the people who so vehemently demanded them.

    • > Fatality rate 6.9%

      Stephen, you are confusing case fatality rate (CFR) and infection mortality rate (IFR). The former is the number of deaths divided by the confirmed cases. The latter is the number of deaths divided by the number of infections. IFR is much, much lower than than CFR.

      If you don’t want to consider the science, that is fine, but you shouldn’t spread a figure that suggests one in 15 people that get covid will die. There’s not a single doctor or scientist out there that believes that. We have enough people rejecting the science out there already.

      God help us all if the WHO numbers for starvation materialize because the US and EU cannot get back to making food for the world. If their 27M dead due to starvation does come true, it will be because wealthy but scared people opted to shelter in their homes fearing a virus that is less dangerous than driving if you are under 60.

  9. Laura A Scheffer says

    7% is still a lot of people, we’re talking about people who were productive, who were essential and didn’t have the choice to stay at home. We need to start reinventing the way we do business and respect each other’s differences and rights.
    I was so naive to think this would be us closer together, but I was wrong. I’m still going to get excited about the way many restaurants are giving back to their communities like never before and admire anyone who help others no matter their creed, race or party. I am pursuing ways I can be productive and still protect myself and family. Thank you for your compassion. I know everyone here really does care for this country and it’s people in their own way. Only by example can we change and grow.

    • > 7% is still a lot of people,

      This is not the % of people that die that catch covid. Please stop spreading bad science. You are quoting the CFR, which is much, much higher than the IFR. Please stick to the science. In NYC, more than 2M people have had covid. 20,000 have died. Of those 20,000 that died, just 5400 were under 65.

      Think about that: 2M people had it, and only 5000 under the age of 65 died. That’s 0.25% IFR. And NYC was far worse than Spain, Italy, etc. NYC was the worst city on the planet in terms the infection burning out of control.

      • And the only younger (aka working age) people who are dying are those with serious comorbidities. Most otherwise healthy people never knew they had anything more than the sniffles and a cough, which is why the antibody testing is blowing up the “narrative” and not being talked about. It’s all about validating control and saving face now.

  10. Michael Gentile says

    A lot of public servants just committed political suicide. They seem to think they are nannies and I can’t blame them when all we so is ask them for more “free”. That “free” is the most expensive. They better start sending resumes… preferably to foreign countries because we don’t take kindly to dictators around here.

  11. 132,000 dead Americans since March.
    Closing in on 3 million infected in four months.
    A disease with no cure and no vaccine. A disease that turns your lungs into bricks.
    Americans banned from travel to Europe, Canada, and Mexico.
    The methods that can fight transmission (masks, social distancing, contact tracing, and testing) derided.
    It seems that what’s winning here isn’t political cant but the reality of infectious diseases.

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