‘Extreme risk’ doesn’t deter crowds from Florence


Visitors to Historic Old Town Florence had the chance to dine in a new outdoor eating lane thanks to high-visibility barriers the City of Florence placed in front of six restaurants, including 1285 Restobar, Beachcomber and Nosh Eatery. Additionally, uptown restaurant Fresh Harvest Café completed paving a 1,500-square-foot patio in time for reduced dining options under Lane County’s current designation of “extreme risk” for community spread of COVID-19.

Restaurants adapt to restrictions in time for sunny weekend

May 5, 2021 — Last Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown again raised the danger level in Lane County from high risk to extreme risk of community spread of COVID-19. This shift has created numerous difficulties for local restaurateurs and their employees, which have borne the brunt of drastic fluctuations in allowable activities. Under extreme risk, restaurants are unable to seat patrons inside and must therefore limit their service to outdoor dining or takeout.

Despite concerns presented by a workplace where many are unmasked while eating, Historic Old Town Florence was inundated by visitors. Many seemed undeterred by the governor’s latest announcement reducing indoor restaurant seating, among other restrictions.

The changing nature of the COVID situation has been a challenge for workers, in some cases making it nearly impossible for them to pay their bills and keep their families sheltered. It has also been a challenging period for business owners who point to a lack of coherency in the statewide mandates, which make running a successful business very difficult during the current pandemic.

Scott Waiss, owner of the Beachcomber Pub, has managed to remain operational for much of the pandemic, shifting between indoor dining, takeout-only and now expanded outdoor seating — with no indoor seating.

“It’s been very hard; we have had to continue to make adjustments at every level of our business,” Waiss said. “Every time we have to close our interior seating, it creates issues with our food and beverage suppliers. They are having a difficult time getting product from their suppliers and they are constantly having to change what they have available. So, this has limited what we can substitute, which leads to us having to keep our menus simple.”

Last week, he decided to avail himself of the barrier seating sections provided by the City of Florence for restaurants to use to expand outdoor seating capacity.

Beachcomber joins Old Town restaurants Nosh Eatery, Mari’s Kitchen, Lovejoy’s Tearoom, 1285 Restobar, Bridgewater Fish House & Zebra Bar, Homegrown Public House and Waterfront Depot in using City-installed high-visibility barricades along the street that allow for additional outdoor seating space. Additionally, Off Bay Street Bistro is using one of the barricades to designate a parking space for vehicles to pick up takeout.

Waiss also decided to purchase new tables and chairs for the seating area.

“The last time the city offered us the barriers, I was hesitant to add the street seating, mostly because the weather was not cooperating at all,” he said. “With this better weather, we decided to give it a try. This last weekend business was great and, surprisingly, the month of April was phenomenal business-wise.”

Like other area restaurants over the course of the pandemic, Beachcomber has tried to keep staffing levels steady, but has had to cut some positions and reduce the hours for most employees.

Across town, Fresh Harvest Café also made changes. Proprietor Gilmar Ortiz and his staff paved an entire patio in time for the “extreme risk” designation. The restaurant now has 1,500 square feet of outdoor seating — “which will be bigger than our inside dining,” the restaurant posted to social media.

It shows how local businesses have continued to adapt to the pandemic.

As Waiss said, “Hopefully, the good weather will continue, and we will be able to keep serving people outside and eventually we will reopen our inside seating. We will do whatever it takes to keep our business open for our customers and our employees.”

When Brown made the announcement of the state’s county risk levels, she called attention to the most recent surge in COVID-19 cases across the state.

“As we are facing widespread cases, driven by new, more contagious variants, I was presented with data showing two paths Oregon could take: one in which we took no additional action and stood by while more people die from this disease. The other required a temporary tightening of restrictions for certain counties but could save hundreds of lives and prevent as many as 450 hospitalizations over the next three weeks. As governor, I chose to save lives,” said Brown.

On Monday, the Oregon Health Authority showed a statewide COVID-19 case count of 186,877 since the start of the pandemic, with 351 currently hospitalized. In addition, 2,502 people have died from the virus.

The state also has climbing vaccination rates, with 30 percent of the state’s residents fully vaccinated and another 12.9 percent with vaccinations in progress. In Lane County, 34.3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Data regarding Lane County testing, patient status, case ZIP codes and more is available at www.LaneCountyOR.gov/localdata. Additional COVID-19 data, including how to get vaccinated in Lane County, can be found at lanecounty.org/coronavirus.

Statewide information can be found at coronavirus.oregon.gov.