COVID-19 cases in Montana are on the rise, with daily cases approaching 1,000. The public health crisis is real and Montana is now one of the most impacted states. In the early days of the pandemic, we enjoyed a false sense of security that Montana, with our wide-open spaces and relatively sparse population, would avoid the worst. Now, the reality of COVID-19, and its impacts to local businesses, is staring us in the face.
Montanans are community-minded; we are hardworking, generous and we look out for each other. We need to tap into the best of who we are to get through this crisis. After all, we are in this together.
Craft beverage manufacturers, and the rest of the hospitality industry, are some of the most deeply impacted by this pandemic. We have been hit hard by the rules necessary to protect public health, which inherently limit the amount of business we can do. We also face the reality that many of our customers just don’t feel comfortable coming into our businesses due to the risks associated with crowded indoor spaces. We rely on crowded breweries, distilleries and cideries to make a profit and that’s just not possible right now.
Our industries have been team players, doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19, complying with capacity limitations, table spacing, mask rules, cleaning protocols and other steps to keep our staff and customers safe. We led the way by innovating with curbside delivery, take out, and contactless delivery. We appreciate the flexibility of regulators who removed obstacles, allowing our businesses to get creative to maintain sources of revenue and meet consumer demand, all while conducting business in a way that reduces the spread of COVID-19.
But not everyone has been part of the team. Those who refuse to wear masks or believe that it is a personal choice for business owners and customers to decide for themselves are only making a bad situation worse. Businesses that flout the rules set a bad example and risk becoming a source of community spread.
It’s also unfair to their competitors who are being responsible. Compliance has increased costs and reduced revenue, from additional staff time and cost of materials to limitations on seating capacity and reduced hours. Frankly, those who don’t follow the rules are making a buck while the rest of us pay the price.
The closures last spring were tough for food and beverage establishments, but what’s proven to be worse is a prolonged pandemic that lasts years rather than weeks or months. We were largely able to weather the storm for the first few months of the pandemic and we had a decent summer; but with winter upon us and an uncertain future, we are bracing for some tough months ahead. Some businesses have already closed for the winter.
In order to avoid the worst-case scenario, we all need to work together – state and local governments, business owners, and Montanans from all walks of life. If we each do our part, we can minimize the negative impacts to public health, local businesses and the broader economy. That includes respecting local health department mandates to wear masks inside businesses.
The worst-case scenario could involve another round of closures and a prolonged loss of revenue that many small businesses won’t be able to survive, not to mention the illnesses and deaths of our neighbors, friends and family members.
Let’s collectively decide that our businesses and communities are worth the inconvenience of following the rules. Let’s do what it takes to slow the spread. Our future selves will thank us for it.
Jon Clarenbach is a member of the board of the Northwest Cider Association and owner of Western Cider in Missoula. Jim Harris is the president of the Montana Distillers Guild and owner of Bozeman Spirits Distillery in Bozeman. Ethan Kohoutek is the president of the Montana Brewers Association and co-owner of Ten Mile Creek Brewery in Helena. Nolan Smith is the vice president of the Montana Brewers Association. Nolan and Cathy Smith are co-owners of Philipsburg Brewing Company in Philipsburg.
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