Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury : Families sit at the tables properly distanced to meet COVID-19 restrictions at Copper Creek  Restaurant near Mount Rainier National Park.
Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury : Families sit at the tables properly distanced to meet COVID-19 restrictions at Copper Creek Restaurant near Mount Rainier National Park.
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With little federal aid for small businesses forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Copper Creek Inn, Cabins and Lodge in Ashford has spent over $100,000 in savings to maintain its business.

Owner Phil Freeman said the recent events have been the most difficult time in the 20 years he and his wife have owned the lodge. While the Freemans managed to keep their business afloat with a “rainy day fund” from running a profitable business for 20 years, Freeman said it is not likely many small business owners have had the same opportunity. He said he is unhappy that banks and stock exchanges were supported with trillions of dollars while small businesses received little help.

“It is as if they assumed we are Google or somebody that has billions of dollars at their disposal,” Freeman said.

Freeman said publicity from mainstream media about the businesses forced to file bankruptcy or shut their doors permanently has been nearly absent.

According to a sample survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research, nber.org/papers/w26989.pdf, 1.8 percent of U.S. small businesses shut down permanently by May 11. In another study by the National Restaurant Association, https://restaurant.org/articles/news/study-details-impact-of-coronavirus-on-restaurants, 3 percent of restaurants across America had permanently shut their doors by March 25.

Freeman said he is concerned about banks and larger corporations buying up small businesses. He said similar to 2008’s economic crash, the banks have been subsidized when they do not need the money the way small businesses do. He added that the purchase of small businesses will lead to more consolidation of centralized economic power and larger monopolies.

“[The government] is ordering legitimate business out of business and they are subsidizing businesses that do not need it … it is unbelievable,” Freeman said.

While the federal government has issued payroll grants to ease small business’ financial struggles, it has not factored in additional expenses, such as maintenance and loss in revenue, Freeman said. He added, despite the loans, many small business owners are reluctant to take them at the 4 percent interest rate being offered. He said he has worked hard to recently become debt free and should not have to go into debt again because of a government order.

“What good is a loan when you have no revenue to pay back the loan?” Freeman asked.

Although restaurants were allowed to offer takeout during the pandemic shutdown, Freeman opted to close Copper Creek's restaurant. Because of its proximity to Mount Rainier National Park, which closed to visitors early in the pandemic response, the resort received almost no traffic. Offering takeout would not have been cost effective, Freeman said. The park was closed until June 8, when Pierce County entered Phase 2 of the state's Safe Start plan, which permitted it to reopen and for restaurants to seat people at 50 percent capacity.

Copper Creek’s lodging suffered major losses, as well. Although Gov. Jay Inslee deemed hospitality services industry as essential, Freeman said with the stay home order and the park being closed, nobody was visiting, and many summer vacation and event reservations were canceled.

With Phase 2, however, Freeman said things are returning to normal.

The restaurant is doing better, as well. Copper Creek began serving takeout meals a week before Phase 2 was approved because demand made it profitable, and the restaurant is now serving people at a nearly regular pace for indoor and outdoor seating.

Freeman said he is thankful Pierce County entered Phase 2 when it did because his business faced imminent financial difficulties.

“Right now we are having really good robust reservations, thank goodness, and the staff has been doing a really great job keeping COVID compliant and putting out a great product,” he said.

While grateful Mount Rainier National Park reopened, Freeman said he has an issue with the way essential services were delineated. He said parks and recreation should never have been deemed as non-essential.

“Parks and recreation and what we do at Mount Rainier is absolutely crucial to the health and well being of our citizens,” Freeman said. “Without it, they go crazy.”

Freeman noted a United Nations study, news.un.en/story/2020/04/1061052, chronicling a large increase in domestic violence cases during stay home orders across the world. He said it is difficult to understand why industries such as fracking and mining, which cause pollution, contribute to global warming and help perpetuate viruses like COVID-19, were deemed essential, while recreation, was not.

Freeman said not everything about the shutdown was bad. People are learning they can work from home, which is ultimately less stressful and puts less pollution in the air. He noted that pollution levels across the globe have decreased. According to a Nature.com study, nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-x, carbon dioxide emissions are down 17 percent globally from last year.

Freeman said he hopes government officials take into account the positive environmental impacts of the shutdown, and new policies reflect both the positive and negative of the experience.

Copper Creek restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Reservations for the lodge can be made at any time. Call the restaurant at 360-569-2326. To make a lodging reservation, call 360-569-2799. Learn more at greatgetaways.com.