Butte businesses welcome customers back, optimistic for revenue rebound

Butte businesses welcome customers back, optimistic for revenue rebound

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Butte residents spent the last few weeks revisiting businesses previously closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Restaurants, breweries, bars, salons and barbershops reopened on April 27, while gyms and theaters were allowed to reopen last Friday with some restrictions.

If anything represents normalcy in communities, it's going out to eat. And that's exactly what folks started doing when Butte eateries were allowed to open their dining rooms again.

The doors to restaurants closed when Butte-Silver Bow Health Department issued the shutdown order on March 16 as a way to stem the spread of coronavirus. Many turned to takeout and delivery and kept a watchful eye as to when they could welcome diners again.

In Uptown Butte, Gamer’s Cafe reopened with about half of its customers after closing for two months.

“Business has been slow,” Cote said. “I think people are still getting used to going out, but I’m hoping it will pick back up.”

Cote said his cafe is fully staffed again after his employees were laid off because Gamer’s didn’t offer delivery or take-out during the coronavirus closures. The business is now open seven days a week.

During that time, Cote said he repainted the kitchen and modified the kitchen space. The restaurant made several changes to reopen safely, including removing half of its tables and taking away magazines and newspapers from the counter.

“One thing about Gamer’s is its big open space, and we’ve got high ceilings,” Cote said. “So I think having that helps and people have been safer.”

While Gamer’s revenue took a hit during the early spring months, Cote said the pandemic’s timing could have been worse.

“In some ways, March and April weren’t always great months,” he said.

Meanwhile, the doors at MacKenzie River Pizza opened to dine-in customers for the first time on May 4.

Colin Higgins, MacKenzie River’s owner, said he was eager to reopen. Like other restaurants, MacKenzie River had tried to stay afloat by offering takeout and delivery options, but Higgins said revenues were down 40 to 70 percent the past two months.

“We definitely lost a lot of revenue during the months of March and April,” said Higgins, who estimates the restaurant lost around $180,000 during the shutdown.

He said his business was fortunate enough to secure a Small Business Administration loan to help keep the majority of the staff on the payroll.

“It’s been fantastic to have people back in the restaurant again,” Higgins said. “We really missed seeing everyone, our regular customers and new faces.”

Higgins said he and his team worked during the shutdown order to deep-clean and sanitize every surface, repaint the walls, reseal its floors and build a new stage. He also removed a lot of seating, to accommodate social-distancing requirements.

“We had a good opportunity to retool our procedures and customer service goals and put them to even higher standards than before,” Higgins said. “We’re doing our due diligence, and we’re going way beyond to make sure our customers and staff feel safe and secure.”

At MacKenzie River, those extra precautions include cleaning the bathrooms four times an hour, employing more stringent sanitation methods, requiring people to keep their distance, and “sanitizing anything a customer touches.”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s all becoming a habit here,” Higgins said.

The Butte Brewing Company returned to regular dine-in service at 50% capacity on opening day but with a caveat.

“We just have different rules to abide by,” brewery owner Tony Olson said.

Like all the other eateries in town, Butte Brewing follows a long list of new rules to protect its employees and customers.

Customers cannot order food or beer at the counter. Tables are spaced 7 to 8 feet apart and are wiped down after each use, and can only seat up to six people. The brewery also implemented single-use disposable utensils, plates, cups, napkins and menus.

Olson said he lost 70% of his business during the coronavirus shutdown.

“We ended up laying off 20 workers, so we laid off all but two — our general manager and our brewer,” Olson said. “Those two and myself ran the business for almost months.”

Olson said he has since welcomed all his staff back to work.

Butte Brewing is also brewing beer again, Olson said. “Demand for draft beer went down, so we didn’t brew as many batches,” he said.

Olson said he’s looking forward to Phase 2 of reopening when he can welcome group gatherings of more than 50 people at a time.

“A large part of our business was renting out our conference room, which also helped our sales on the brewery side,” said Olson. “Once we can rent the conference room again, we’re hoping to see the business increase somewhat.”

The stay-at-home orders during the pandemic also hurt the auto industry.

Butte Toyota remained open but sales and the number of people getting service went down significantly, according to office manager Robin Hunt.

“But this month, sales have picked up and more people are starting to come in to get their cars serviced,” she said.

Meanwhile, the lights, camera and popcorn machines were back in action at movie theaters across the state starting last Friday.

But Golden Ticket Cinemas, Butte’s new movie theater after AMC closed, won’t open until June 12, according to company president John Bloemeke.

“Part of the challenge is that there is no new Hollywood product to play,” he said. “We’re also finishing up cosmetic upgrades and painting. But we’re really excited to get the theater reopened.”

Golden Tickets Cinema was less than a week from its grand opening in Butte when the health department ordered it to close, Bloemeke said.

“So our grand opening will be our reopening,” he said. “We know that the community will be thankful when it has a movie theater again since Butte hasn’t had one since AMC closed in February.”

Bloemeke said the theater will reopen with a limited capacity and social distancing measures will be in place.

“We’ll be handing out self-serve drinks differently, spacing out lines, spacing out people in auditoriums, and we might have an usher to make sure people maintain social distancing,” he said.

With no new product to flood screens, the plan is to present classics and recent films that didn’t make it to Butte before the theater closed. Bloemeke said that general admission will be discounted at $5 per ticket until new films hit the screens again mid-July.

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