Given it high dependence on oil, retail, dining revenues and sales taxes, Dickinson's economy could be faced with an uphill struggle to rebound after tanking oil prices and government mandates of business closures caused by the coronavirus.
“I’m almost 46-years-old and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Joseph Gaa, the city administrator for Dickinson, said. “I don’t think really anybody ever has.”
Through executive order given on March 19, Gov. Burgum mandated all state on-site bars, restaurants, dine-in establishments, recreational facilities, health clubs and entertainment venues must close until April 6, to help restrict the spread of the coronavirus.
The number of cases have continued to increase, standing at 10,442 cases in the United States and over 150 deaths. In North Dakota, the number doubled from seven confirmed to 15 in 24 hours, and will inevitably reach southwest North Dakota in the coming days and weeks.
“It is going to be an economic devastation, I think it’s going to be really, really, tough times going forward," Gaa said. "It’s going to be tough to work through, but I’m sure we’ll hopefully all survive it economically. It’s going to take some time to build back I bet.”
According to many restaurants and bars in Dickinson, the coronavirus’ impact has already reached the Western Edge as drastic decreases in revenue led some establishments to begin temporarily suspending business before the order was even given.
“We closed down for at least two weeks, starting March 18,” Donny Woolery, general manager of Army’s West Sports Bar said. “For the safety of our customer and all of our employees … We figured we’d be proactive and if we got to be the first one that closes, then I guess we are.”
For restaurants such as Blue 42, the shutdown comes during a period typically known for its high profits as March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day, NBA Playoff and start of the MLB see crowds fill the establishment from open to close. Now following the mandate, the business questions how they are going to rebound after such a significant economic impact.
“We were just slower,” Whitney Krieg, the general manager of Blue 42, said. “Since there’s no sports, I mean obviously no one is watching March Madness … there’s really no sports on, our St. Patrick’s day activities, we didn’t really do. . . . . It's hard.”
For others restaurants, such as the Brickhouse Grille, they made every effort to continue business, even encouraging take-out or seating at every-other-table, but despite best efforts, have witnessed a financial strain with revenues decreasing by the day.
“We’ve seen revenue and sales drop tremendously, ever since the scare of the virus outbreak pandemic,” Mike Riesinger, the co-owner of Brickhouse Grille said. “Our main concern is the safety of our customers, employees and of the community as a whole. We don’t want to see this get bad along with anyone else. We’re concerned about the safety of everyone. Safety comes first.”
Gaa remained positive, crediting managers of local businesses who have made difficult decisions amidst the pandemic.
“I’m pretty proud of our Dickinson businesses for getting prepared and making supervisions now, and that’s just great,” Gaa said. “It’s great for them to do that and that will help them make it through this.”
Despite businesses being shut down by mandate from Bismarck, employees face the brunt of the economic woes as many food service jobs are leaving tip workers caught between a rock and a hard place.
“We’re going to do everything in our power, Government assistance or anything like that so our staff can continue to hold their job,” Riesinger said. “If we have to move to delivery, we’ll do that so we can staff some people that can deliver the food … but it is going to affect them.”
Blue 42 also recognizes the challenges their employees face as the economy of food service struggles with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Just being in the restaurant industry, most of my employees rely on tips ,” Krieg added. “Hopefully we could find, even if we do have to close, at least something to do for them, whether it’s cleaning or reorganizing. Then that’s what we would have to do, I guess.”
Gaa added that with being in “uncharted waters” comes the consequence of not knowing what will come next or even what to compare something of this financial crisis to.
“There’s federal money that has been designated, there was discussions today on the news and stuff, they’re having the congressional discussions and debates about how to utilize and direct that money … so there’s going to be stuff that trickles down from the federal to the state and then to the local. But as of now, it’s speculated and not known yet.”