MultCo reopening on hold ‘devastating’ for small businesses

Multnomah County

Brown announced a week-long pause on reopening

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Governor Kate Brown’s announcement is hitting hard in Multnomah County.

The largest county in the state was hoping to get approval to enter Phase One of reopening on Friday — but that’s now on hold, putting many businesses in further limbo.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has issued a week-long, statewide “pause” on all pending applications for reopening, according to a Thursday evening announcement from her office.

Multnomah County to Phase 1 reopening now on hold


Several restaurants purchased perishable food and called workers to return as they geared up for inside service. But the last-minute decision has left some restaurants in even worse shape.

At the Fields Bar and Grill, owners Jan and Jim Rice pre-ordered food with the expectation that they would be able to open on Friday. The decision late Thursday to pause reopening applications, like Multnomah County’s, has left a bitter taste in the mouth of business owners.

“We were forced into a gamble on the fact we were going to reopen,” said Jim. “If we don’t reopen, we are going to have thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in food that we are not going to be able to use.”

“We don’t have extra thousands of dollars to be gambling with right now,” said Jan.

“They had ordered tens of thousand of dollars in perishable inventory that’s now just sittting there,” said Greg Astley with the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association. “People had been called up to go back to work. It’s absolutely devastating to our industry.”

There are about 2500 restaurants in Multnomah County and the association estimates 30-40% of restaurants won’t make it. While some try to survive with take out and delivery, they say it’s not the volume they need to pay the rent and other bills.

“I’m hopeful the governor’s office will make some sort of reparations to the businesses, whether it’s buying that food for the Food Bank, the state hospital, the prisons,” Astley said. “We’ve asked for a hospitality relief fund.”

Barber shops

Mikey Denton, who owns the Brick & Mortar barbershop on Southeast Hawthorne, has been working hard during the quarantine to repaint and repair his shop. But as the proposed date for Multnomah County’s hoped-for entry into Phase 1 was pushed back, his optimism turned to frustration.

With late-night notice from Governor Kate Brown that Multnomah County wasn’t approved, Denton said he couldn’t properly plan.

“It’s not like a business gets to open up and we’re all good to go. We have to prepare, restaurants have to prepare,” Denton said.​

In Phase 1, salons and barbershops will be required to wear masks, gloves and provide clean smocks for each client. Clients have to wear masks and wait outside until it’s their turn.

Denton is asking customers to be patient with businesses like his.

“Whether you think its a bunch of hocus pocus or you are really concerned about getting sick – the state is requiring that if you want to operate you have to follow these rules,” he said.​

Over at the Slabtown Barbershop, owner Marty Caballero said he’ll spend the evening calling more than 40 customers to cancel appointments.

“It just seems so disrespectful after 13 weeks of no work, to just kind of nonchalantly be like, ‘oh, by the way, you guys can’t open for another week,’” said Caballero. “Meanwhile, every other county is open.”

He said if there was more assistance available, it wouldn’t be as dire, but he said the desperation is worse than many people are letting on.

“There’s no money left. We are ready to get back to work, you know, it’s brutal, it’s brutal,” said Caballero.

Business owners said that because the other counties have already opened, businesses in Multnomah are falling further behind.

Massage house

Miho Hatanaka, the co-owner Teascape Massage and Teahouse, ​has also been working on a lot of improvements, even bringing in local artists to create custom woodwork and giving the Teahouse a fresh coat of paint.

But it hasn’t been all happy HGTV.

Hatanaka and her business partner started the purchasing process to buy the Teascape Massage House in October 2019.

“However we didn’t have the transaction finalized until January 29 of this year, which was a month-and-a-half before the coronavirus pandemic hit and we were forced to close our doors,” she said. “Yeah, it’s been 2.5 months.​”

A small business loan helped get them through.

She told KOIN 6 News she’s heard people express worries about getting a massage at this uncertain time. She wants to assure clients once they do open, they’re prepared to follow all precautions, requirements and suggestions necessary to keep people and employees safe.

She’s optimistic she’ll be able to reopen soon. Right now they’re taking appointments only to prepare for screening and sanitizing.

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