Wallowa County has been hit hard by a coronavirus-slowed economy and closures.
Restaurants have been forced to halt on-site service in favor of take-out or curbside service. This put people like Logan Soumal, a waiter at Friends Restaurant in downtown Enterprise, out of a job. The Enterprise man was laid off about six weeks ago from his only job.
“It’s definitely been a hardship. It’s been a real pain,” Soumal said. “It’s been no fun for anyone. For most of us, it’s been hard.”
He said he tried to apply for unemployment, but “The website doesn’t work very well. That’s probably because so many are applying.”
But he’s not starving. “I got my stimulus check so I’m using that to feed myself,” he said.
He said he hopes to go back to Friends soon. He said he understands his boss, Bree Gladden, received one of the loans to help small businesses, including the Paycheck Protection Program intended to help businesses pay workers they’d otherwise have to lay off. Gladden had Soumal and others of her laid-off employees come in recently to perform cleaning tasks. But as for their regular duties, we’re all waiting on the government.
“Bree said she’s just waiting to hear from state,” he said.
Another food-service worker, Lonnie Lies, regularly works about 20 hours a week at Subway. It’s her only job, but she doesn’t consider being laid off a particular hardship. “I’m supposed to be retired,” the Social Security recipient said. “This was supposed to pay for Medicare.”
She’s been spending the extra spare time working around her home and greenhouse. She said she did not apply for unemployment for a couple of reasons.
“I really love Ed and Jeny (Charlton, Subway’s owners) and I didn’t want to put any added stress on them,” Lies said. “Also, I don’t like dealing with the unemployment office. It wasn’t so bad when they had one here, but now you have to go online or all the way to La Grande.”
She hopes to return to work possibly this week.
“I think it might be a little too soon to open things up because people don’t keep far enough apart,” Lies said of social distancing.
Her coworker, Debbie Curtis, also was laid off from part-time work there, but Subway was her secondary job. She and Lies were laid off about a month ago. “My real job is at Safeway’s pharmacy and I haven’t been laid off there,” Curtis said.
She, too, had hopes of going back to work this week. “I’ve kind of enjoyed not working Sundays,” she said.
Other businesses that are not deemed “essential” have had to just shut their doors until the reopen word is given. Some businesses that are heavily dependent on tourism have been closed for the winter and are having to delay hiring, so they haven’t actually laid anyone off. Others are small enough that they don’t have many employees.
Businesses that are deemed essential have had to adopt social distancing practices to thwart any spread of disease. Local governments are closed, but no workers have been laid off, according to spokesmen for Wallowa County and the cities of Enterprise, Joseph and Wallowa. But they, too, have implemented social distancing practices.
The Federal Research Economic Data website listed its most recent figures for unemployment in Wallowa County at 7.5% at the end of March. However, this is coming off of winter and should be picking up about now if the tourism season is allowed to get underway.