The need to support local Joplin businesses during the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus was the primary reason why Doris and Loren Saathoff were sitting comfortably at their favorite corner booth Monday afternoon inside Crabby’s Seafood Bar and Grill, enjoying a late lunch.
“This is our favorite place to eat … and I want to support our local businesses,” Doris said, “because these people depend on our income to make it.”
Now more than ever, local restaurant and bar owners will be leaning heavily on the support of their loyal customers as they face numerous unanswerable questions concerning the impact COVID-19 will have on their bottom lines.
Damien Tiregol, Crabby’s owner, said if the situation stays as is, local owners should be able to weather the storm. Should restrictions be implemented — mandated reduction in hours, for instance, or limiting how many people can be seated at any one time inside a restaurant — it could spell big trouble, Tiregol said.
If the government decides to initiate a quarantine or national lockdown to keep people inside their homes, Tiregol said that might be the best possible route for local small businesses, simply because they could tap into their casualty insurance policies to help pay monetary damages and keep employees paid.
“Shutting down … might be better than bleeding for the next month,” he said. “Whenever they limit what you can do, that’s when things get really tough and tight. If they wait a month and then decide to (initiate a quarantine or lockdown), then you’re going to see places close doors. That’s when things will get rocky.”
Like many local and area restaurants, Crabby’s has upped its sanitary efforts, including the installation of new sanitizer stations; booth chairs, tables and door handles are wiped and sanitized; cooks wear nitrile-based gloves while preparing food, and employees wash their hands after each table visit.
Joan Ghanni, general manager for Northpark Mall, said sanitary stations have been increased from three to 16. Inside the food court, food trays have been swapped with food now served in bags for easy disposal. Also, public gatherings, such as the seasonal Easter Bunny photo program, have been canceled.
“We are taking as many precautions as we can,” she said. “We’ve got to do what we need to do to contain the virus.”
Tom Scriven, a Northpark employee, was scrubbing away at a metal railing near the food court Monday morning. He said he was making the rounds at least three times a day, “cleaning everything that people come into contact with,” from door handles to public benches.
Flicker Bar and Arcade co-owner James Andre said they have already instituted a 50-person maximum occupancy limit and implemented enhanced cleaning procedures, including wiping down each arcade machine multiple times per day.
“Clearly this is all about striking a balance,” he said. “It would be extremely detrimental for all bars and restaurants to close entirely for weeks on end. This is an economic problem as well as a problem of community spirit. At the same time, it is necessary to support the overarching strategy to effectively prevent the spread of this highly contagious disease. ... The community of Joplin is very upbeat and social, and we are all looking forward to a time when we can freely spend time together again.”
To counter a potential drop in customers inside dining rooms, a number of local restaurants are introducing or expanding curbside services or deliveries in Joplin.
Steve Williams, Club 609’s general manager, said that, starting tonight, the restaurant and bar would be offering evening deliveries to residents inside Joplin’s city limits, on top of the lunch deliveries that have been made for the past two years. Club 609 also offers a curbside service.
“We’re just learning on the fly,” trying to keep their employees paid and their patrons happy, he said. New sanitizing procedures have been adopted, with Club 609 servers now “wearing gloves at all times,” he added.
Blackthorn Pizza and Pub is launching curbside services for the first time this week, to go along with its regular takeout service and DoorDash food delivery. It’s just more ways to diversify and bring more money into the restaurant to keep its employees afloat financially, said Blackthorn owner Melanie Wamble.
“I’m responsible for my staff,” she said. “I’ve seen where another bar in Springfield … is selling T-shirts and proceeds are split up among the staff, so I may look into doing something like that here” if things take a turn for the worse.
Wamble views Blackthorn as a “safe space” for worried local residents, a place to “sit down, have a pint and forget about all the drama that’s going on outside.” She likened the pub to the fictional Winchester pub found in the horror comedy “Shaun of the Dead.”
“It’s just like after the Joplin tornado — we opened our doors for people to come in here, people who didn’t have electricity or a place to sleep or food, and that’s what we’ve always tried to do for the community. We’re a safe place for people to visit.”
“I wouldn’t say that the public is scared,” Bookhouse Cinema owner Holly Crane said. “We have people taking various levels of precaution according to their own needs and acceptance of the situation. People will still need to eat, and we have their favorite food.”