Business leaders in Lewis and Clark County said Monday’s decision to close restaurants, bars and gyms over coronavirus concerns will have a far-reaching impact on the local economy.
“You drive through town this morning and it was pretty dead,” said Helena Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Cathy Burwell. “You don’t have people out having breakfast, you don’t have anybody taking their kids to school – it’s a different time right now.”
Burwell said about 70 of the chamber’s member businesses were affected by Lewis and Clark Public Health’s order. She said most of the owners she talked to wished they had had more notice about the decision.
“They would have liked a heads up,” she said. “If they would have said even a week ago that this could happen, then they might have cut back a little on their ordering and supplies.”
The closure order came just before St. Patrick’s Day. Burwell said many Helena-area restaurants were expecting large crowds for the holiday and had brought in extra food to be ready.
Some businesses around Lewis and Clark County have closed completely, while others have switched to offering pickup orders or delivery.
Burwell said the average Helena restaurant relies on bringing in about 300 to 400 customers a day in order to break even. In order to encourage people to keep supporting local businesses, the Chamber is organizing a “Take Out Blitz.” They put together a list of those offering takeout or delivery and when they will be open.
“These are tough times for everybody, but especially, immediately to these restaurants and bars, so if you can support them, we definitely encourage that,” said Burwell. “And if you don’t need food, go get a gift card online and help them out anyway.”
The chamber also sent businesses information so that they could apply for aid from the federal government. Burwell said they will continue working to support local businesses as the coronavirus outbreak continues.
“We’re hoping and praying that it’s shorter than longer,” she said. “We definitely hope that Montana got in ahead of the curve and really made this go away faster than other places, so that hopefully we can alleviate the impact a little.”
Burwell also asked that people in Lewis and Clark County not cancel their plans too far in advance, saying that the situation may change significantly in the next four or five weeks.