Study: Whitefish Losses Total $732,000 Per Day Due to Coronavirus

Survey of local businesses estimates steep daily revenue loss, compares current figures to same time period last year

By Tristan Scott
Parking spaces in downtown Whitefish along Central Avenue as seen on July 2, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Even though local public health measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic are barely weeks old, the Whitefish business community is already losing more than $732,000 in daily revenue, according to a study released Tuesday, offering a snapshot of the downturn that local economies may have to endure for months to come.

The Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau (Explore Whitefish) and the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce released a “Whitefish Business Economic Impact Study” to estimate the economic impact on businesses in the last two weeks of March, as a result of emergency measures related to the spread of COVID-19 cases.

Initial estimates reveal that the business community operating within Whitefish city limits is experiencing total revenue losses of more than $732,000 per day compared to the same time period last year.

Courtesy Explore Whitefish

“These are difficult numbers to see,” Dylan Boyle, executive director of Explore Whitefish, stated in a press release announcing the survey. “But this data will help us to continue to rally around our local business community and advocate for future business assistance from local, county, state, and federal elected officials and governments.”

The revenue losses were calculated based on a survey of 115 businesses that responded. The data was then extrapolated to estimate losses across the entire business community, based on the number of business licenses per category, in retail, restaurant/bar, professional services, and lodging.

The results portray a stark economic reality as businesses across the nation grind to a halt while major sectors of the workforce hunker down, hoping to ride out the wave of pandemic even as the number of patients sickened by the disease COVID-19 rises exponentially, as does the death toll.

The economic losses come in spite of campaigns to support local businesses by ordering takeout and buying gift cards for future use, and even as restaurants make major adjustments to do whatever business they can muster.

Still, the recent public health initiatives, while necessary, are taking their toll.

On March 20, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive that dramatically shifted how bars and restaurants do business across the state, ordering them to close public dining areas and shift to a delivery or carry-out only model. Other businesses like gyms and fitness studios were also ordered to close temporarily, followed by beauty parlors, barber shops and nail salons.

On March 28, the governor announced a stay-at-home order instructing residents to remain at home and only leave their homes to engage in activities or perform tasks critical to their health and safety, or to the health and safety of their family or household members or to go to or return from “critical work.”

And on Monday, the city of Whitefish asked hoteliers and short-term rental agencies to stop accepting reservations from guests whose visits are “non-essential” through April 30, a measure city officials said was due to the surge of out-of-state visitors seeking refuge here.

Locally, residents may still run errands and exercise outside, but the cumulative effect of COVID-19 has been one of near paralysis on the economic community, particularly in Whitefish, where lodging, bars and dining establishments are a major pillar.

“Since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Montana, we have been proactively working with our city officials and partnering with our local chamber to help inform the community of the quickly changing situation and what we can do to help and stay safe,” Boyle stated. “We will continue to advocate for our community every step of the way.”

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