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Flagstaff bars, gyms, dine-in restaurants, more to close Tuesday in response to coronavirus
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Flagstaff bars, gyms, dine-in restaurants, more to close Tuesday in response to coronavirus

From the A collection of the Daily Sun's coronavirus coverage series
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As of 8 p.m. tonight, dozens of businesses in Flagstaff will be facing temporary closures due to a proclamation by Mayor Coral Evans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure was part of an effort to stop the spread of a global pandemic and coincide with the closure of every bar, gym, yoga studio, recreational facility and entertainment venue in Flagstaff.

“I was elected to look after the health and well-being of our community,” Evans told the Arizona Daily Sun after the proclamation. “The precautions I’m taking are definitely drastic.”

Evans added she takes the charge given to her by the voters very seriously and made the decision after careful consideration.

The message came just over 24 hours after the City of Flagstaff declared a state of emergency and after schools across Arizona were closed until at least March 27 by decree of Gov. Doug Ducey.

All restaurants and coffee shops that normally served food on the premises will no longer be able to do so. Instead, customers will be required to get it delivered or pick it up themselves, be it at a drive-thru or at the curb. For the duration of these restrictions, the City of Flagstaff downtown paid parking program (ParkFlag) will be suspended.

The measure is currently slated to be in effect from Tuesday, March 17 until Wednesday, April 1.

The Flagstaff City Council held an emergency meeting on coronavirus measures Monday afternoon. Spokespeople for the City and APS said they would not be shutting off utilities due to unpaid bills for the foreseeable future.

Earlier, on Sunday, the City of Flagstaff declared a state of emergency due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to a press release. The declaration allows the city to seek resources and recovery assistance.

There are no confirmed cases in Coconino County at this time.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

BUSINESS OWNERS SCRAMBLE

Nearly 12 hours before the proclamation from the mayor, John Conley, the owner of the popular eastside restaurants Salsa Brava and Fat Olives, made a post on Facebook that he would be closing his two restaurants for a minimum of two weeks.

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“The only argument not to close is a financial argument and I’m not willing to go there when the health and well-being of my employees, my family and this community are at stake,” Conley told the Arizona Daily Sun. “We thought we had weeks and then we would come to a point where we would have days and then we knew we would come to a point where we would have hours but we got there a lot quicker.”

Conley’s announcement also highlighted the difficult and rapidly evolving choices being faced by businesses across northern Arizona as they decide how to respond to the growing pandemic.

But while Salsa Brava, Fat Olives, Bright Side Bookshop, Mountain Sports and Harkins Theaters were just a number of the businesses that announced closures by the end of Monday, not all businesses came to the same conclusion. Arizona Snowbowl, which is not subject to the mayor's proclamation, was open Monday and as of press time was still evaluating its options for Tuesday. Several ski resorts in other states have shuttered recently due to concerns over the coronavirus.

Even before the mayor's closures, both the owner of Pizzacletta Caleb Schiff and Kevin Heinonen, owner of The Annex, Tinderbox and The Tourist Home, said they were looking at transitioning to a pick-up-only business model.

Heinonen said they have been discussing such measures for about two weeks but just like Conley, he didn’t think it would reach this point so quickly.

Both said they don’t have plans to lay off any employees, but Schiff said the reality of the situation may mean significant cuts in employee hours.

Heinonen said they are establishing an employee fund that will be paid into with the sale of gift cards. For every $100 of gift cards sold, $25 of that will be going to the employee fund.

The Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce also announced earlier in the day it was putting together two new web pages to assist businesses and residents.

The websites would list the status of various businesses, whether they were operating or not, in real-time. The second site would be dedicated to those businesses that are remaining open and would list any sales and promotions those businesses are pushing.

Conley said he made the decision to close his restaurants after discussing the situation with several medical professionals and the mayor over the weekend, but added the decision is different for every business.

Conley said he had been transitioning to pick-up-only service like what both Heinonen and Schiff were considering, but decided against it.

For the first week, Conley is keeping nearly all of his employees on while they use the time to essentially refurbish both restaurants, repairing anything that has been broken, repainting and doing a deep clean.

Conley said both restaurants' labor costs add up to about $119,000 a month and while most of their employees are students who have told him they will simply move back in with their parents, he employs others who rely on their jobs to support themselves and their families.

And based on their projections, by dipping into savings, Conley said they believe they can support many on their staff for about a month.

“I didn’t think I would be going into my savings to pay my employees because of a potential month-long closure; however, I think that’s part of a moral responsibility, whatever you want to call it, a moral compass,” Conley said. “We’ve had a really good run as a direct result of our employees -- because without them we're [expletive] -- and then how this community supported us, so it’s kind of a no-brainer.”

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