Aggieville businesses seen here in this March 2020 photo when many were forced to close due to COVID-19. (KMAN file photo)

Local businesses have had to comply with Local Health Order 19 since last fall and while many may be tired of restrictions, a lot of local establishments are adapting to the new way of conducting business.

Within it, the health order mandates masks be worn in any public space in the county where social distancing can’t be maintained. The City of Manhattan also implemented its own mask mandate last year requiring compliance. It remains in effect until April 1.

The health order also restricts gatherings of more than 50 people and requires all dine-in service at restaurants to cease at midnight with bars and restaurants being cleared out no later than 12;30 a.m.

News Radio KMAN wanted to hear directly from those involved in day-to-day operations within Manhattan’s most popular shopping district.

Wingstop General Manager Jeff Zerr says his staff has continued to wear masks at all times, and claims the reasoning why they haven’t had struggles is because their lobby doesn’t allow indoor dining. The only interaction with customers is essentially left to picking up their food or ordering, wait for it to finish, and then take it out when they’re done..

“When we’ve asked customers to wear masks, when they come in, I would say 99% of people comply,” Zerr said “And if they aren’t there, usually, it’s a mistake or something like that ‘I forgot in my car’, and they’ll go back and grab it. So we have not had any issues whatsoever with people willing to wear it or making a big deal about it.”

Manhattan resident Lillian Harvey says through the pandemic, adhering to the mandate was not difficult due to her previous experience in the food industry.

“I would say that I really don’t mind them. If there’s something that I can be doing to kind of help and reduce the risk, I’m glad it’s something as simple as putting a piece of cloth across your face and paying attention to washing your hands,” Harvey said. “I usually work in kitchens, and in the food service industry, you become very accustomed to keeping track of what you’ve touched since the last time you wash your hands, so it was kind of easy to transition into that.”

Harvey says the handling of the pandemic by government officials was initially handled with what she calls “appalling negligence.” She says it rapidly became apparent that it actually was a real thing that people needed to pay attention to.

“Initially, it was a little bit chaotic to try and figure out what was true and what wasn’t, and there may have been some people who had the power to influence that positively. There have just been so many things about this last year that have been scary and weird and leaving us stuck in a rough position that nobody likes,” Harvey said. “We’ve all been told this whole time that things might go back to normal soon, and we’re all just dead sick of waiting. This time around with the vaccine becoming available, and if everybody really stays far apart, it may go back to normal soon. We only have to wait it out for more months just a little bit longer. And I know it’s been so long, but it’s just a little bit more waiting and then we can.”

Due to the close proximity many businesses have to bars within Aggieville, business owners like District Manager Michael Dean Gustason of Juicy’s Vapor Lounge have seen on numerous occasions establishments packed and not everyone in attendance wearing masks and taking matters seriously.

“I feel like a lot of people have gotten very lax about the whole situation. There’s been a couple times during Chiefs games that I’m down here at the store, and then I close up and I leave, and everybody is next door, at the bars, and they’re just packed,” Gustason said. “Not everybody’s taking it as serious as they need to, but we’re gonna do what we can to stay open, and keeping everybody as healthy as possible.”

Kite’s bartender Rashawn Owens says when things get busy, it does get a little chaotic, with people standing up and walking around without masks on. In response to this issue, Kite’s security guards walk the perimeter ensuring patrons are always sitting down.

“People kind of bend the rules with the whole drink in their hand and trying to drink and everything. But we just try to make sure we keep it at a minimum and make sure everyone’s sitting down,” Owens said. “I can’t speak for others, because I really don’t know, but I think that we do a pretty good job. Like I said, we’re just making sure that we’re keeping people seated, and making sure they have a mask at the door when they can come in.”

Following Auntie Mae’s reopening, the business model for this establishment went from a private membership to open to the public with strict rules in place. Bartender Savannah Smith says that their procedures are more extensive than many in the area, requiring patrons to sign in and have their temperature taken as a form of contact tracing so no one’s been infected.

“If anyone’s testing positive, we can say here are the people who might have been in contact with them,” Smith said. “Or we can say, hey, you have a fever, maybe step outside, which turns away a lot of people who aren’t really willing to be safe. If anyone does have any symptoms, we make sure that we get tested. My boss, Jeff (Denney) has  required that all of us get our vaccinations when it’s available to us.”

Co-owner Jeff Denney says the move for membership was meant to “keep occupancy down real low”, and those that joined up to be a member were all on the same page.

“We started that in August and it’s still going now that those people kept us afloat. I have members that live out of state who pay a membership just to help us and it’s just amazing,” Denney said “I remember thinking back in March, we’re gonna have to close down, this might be it you know, We might be close for two or three months. Well, here we are, we’re still still feels like we’re closed, since this is not what we usually do. You may be our only customer of the day, but we’ve had days like this. So hopefully things get turned around.”

Denney says through this time his bar going forward would be a little more aggressive about savings, setting some money aside for disasters.

“Although there’s no way we can save for something, I think it’s a good plan. We’ve really learned how to tighten up our belts and cut out a lot of expenses, and how to go in different directions to push for more online sales,” Denney said. “And luckily the state allowed us to do some to-go cocktails, that really helped us out a lot and I don’t know if they’re going to extend that. There’s a lot of when you’re forced to learn new ways to make a living, You do it! It’s taught me quite a bit, and it’s a hard lesson.”

Maintaining social-distancing and safe health practices is critical, and Acme Gift manager April Wagnon says her business hasn’t had much  issues with patrons not wearing a mask and continues to dictate wearing of masks at all times and sanitize wiping everything along with regular hand washing.

“We get really social distanced while we’re here and our our store’s pretty small, too. So we’re pretty strict with the  mask mandates here in the store,” Wagnon said. “We’re just following the guidelines, and we’re all well aware of the World Health Organization came out not too long ago and said that this is bad, and worldwide, but this isn’t the big one so this is a chance for us all to learn.”

Financial impacts have taken their toll all throughout the community, and adhering to the guidelines set forth regarding schedules that businesses must follow has left those like Jimmy Johns General Manager Savannah Walters to have to manage with limited staff and long lines.

“So we used to close at 3 a.m. and then we changed that to 10 p.m.. So that was significant, because everybody’s out in the Ville and they’re drunk and they want a sandwich… We have lost out on quite a bit of money from that,” Walters said. “But it’s just we don’t want to have everybody drunk in here again, because then  the line would be out the door, and it’s kind of impossible to social distance when the line is out the door.”

Walters continued to explain that when employees can be out for two weeks, if they’re exposed or if they actually got the virus, she can’t just hire someone for two weeks.

“I’ve been having to pick up a lot of shifts personally, and I’m already super overworked as it’s taken a toll on me,” Walters said. “And I know it’s taken a toll on a lot my employees whenever they have to pick up shifts that they don’t want to or they’re sick and out of money for two weeks.”

KMAN reached out to management at both Tanner’s and O’Malley’s but both declined interviews.

Sign ups for the annual Aggieville parade are underway. The event is tentatively scheduled for March 13. It is unclear whether the Manhattan City Commission will approve allowing the parade to commence.


The post Nearly a year into pandemic, Aggieville establishments continue to make adjustments appeared first on News Radio KMAN.