By now, even before the disease begins to peak in Oregon and rural America, we are all very tired of hearing about coronavirus, COVID-19, social distancing, and cancellations of seemingly everything. But we are in this for the long haul. Easter will bring no miraculous resurrection from the pandemic that now has the interior rural west, including us, in its sights. President Trump acknowledged this on Sunday stating that “social distancing” will be in effect through the end of April—and possibly until June.
In Wallowa County, “social distancing” seems to be the norm. “Its why I live here. I really don’t like to be around a lot of people,” is a comment oft repeated when the subject comes up. Our commissioners have declared an emergency and placed a very polite, but telling, sign at Minam which alternately displays “Save Lives” and “Stay Home.” Main Street, Joseph, which normally is getting difficult to cross this time of year, looks more like a ghost town. We are kind of on our own out here, with a hospital still low in supplies and possibly short of beds and ventilators, despite a two-trillion dollar aid bill. Should the coronavirus gang ride into town with guns blazing we will be in trouble. As many as 200,000 Americans, including loved ones and Wallowa County residents, will die before this is over, according to the CDC.
This last week, as restaurants transformed into takeout emporiums, clothing and bookstores closed, 3.3 million people applied for unemployment nationwide, and all the world seemed to fall into itself, only 16 people filed for unemployment in Wallowa County according to state figures. Many others who lost their jobs worked part-time, or are self-employed and do not qualify for benefits. It will be a very long haul for them, and for all of us.
This is the time for us who live here to buy locally and step up to support Wallowa County’s economy and businesses, and also support one another. April is the time when, after enduring a winter with minimal sales, visitors begin arriving like flocks of retiring birds, and income picks up. But not this year.
Restaurants are trying to squeak by, offering takeout. (See listing of the restraints offering this service and their contact info on page A16.) At The Dog Spot in Joseph, their Thai takeout menu drew attention on Thursday and Friday last week, but Saturday and Sunday were pretty much a disaster. With no beer or wine sales, and flagging merchandise sales, they weren’t sure how long they could hold out. This week, it’s on to (East) Indian cuisine. In Enterprise, Heavenly’s was struggling mightily. Down the road in Lostine, M Crow was offering take-out hot pizza as whole pie or slices, and also had their regular, tomato sauce-based pizzas available frozen, for just $10! They had laid off 6 part-time employees. And customers were hard to come by. In Wallowa, Katrina Frei at the Main Street Grill said she was able to pay the rent for March, but was not so sure how April would pan out. This is just a sample. Every one of our businesses could use your help. If you can afford it, one or two or more takeout meals per week from each of us would help tide restaurants over until our lives and community open up again. Plus you won’t have to cook! Pizza! Thai food! Mexican! Elk burgers! Every night a new culinary exploration.
It seems that we face new challenges from coronavirus, new stresses, and new fears, on a daily basis. When things seem to be falling apart, pulling together is more important than ever. So please support local businesses as much as you can. June is a very, very long time away.
Oh, and let the Chieftain know what your favorite take-out meal was. We’ll publish the reviews.