APACHE COUNTY — While grocery stores are struggling to keep shelves stocked due to an excess of consumerism, many businesses in Apache county are struggling just to keep their doors open under the new rules implemented during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Most of the businesses in St. Johns complied quickly with the new state and local proclamations, and according to Mayor Spence Udall, “they have been very understanding.” Most seem to be doing okay, given the conditions.
Ditty’s Pizza, which moved to their new location only days ago, is still seeing a lot of business, despite closing their dining room. The business had to institute new rules to handle the flow of customers ordering, waiting and picking up food so as to follow state and federal guidelines. Patrons must now wait until they are called before they can pick up their orders and are discouraged from “hanging out” in the front.
The Dollar General, is so busy that they struggle to keep the shelves stocked. According to one employee, this doesn’t have anything to do with the supply chain, however. The store is still receiving trucks of supplies as they usually do, but customers are buying up everything as soon as it comes in. On March 25, the store received a load of paper towels and toilet paper, and even with purchase limits in place, the shelves were bare again within hours.
Clint Wiltbank at Diamond C Feed says he has mostly seen business as usual, with “no swings one way or the other” in purchases. The business continues to carry the feed and supplies that it usually does.
Some businesses, however, have not been as fortunate. On March 20, El Camino, a Mexican restaurant that has been a local favorite for over 30 years, abandoned their plans for curbside pickup and temporarily shut down the restaurant. “We felt it’s our responsibility to do what is right for us, our employees and our community when it comes to health & safety,” the message on their Facebook account said.
Most Springerville and Eagar businesses have remained open, moving their business online or to call-in orders and pickups. Much like other areas of the White Mountains, there has been mixed success in this approach.
“We have had a couple businesses close temporarily,” Becki Christensen, Executive Director of the Springerville-Eagar Chamber of Commerce, said.
Both the XA Saloon and Grill and Booga Red’s restaurant have closed temporarily until April 1.
The R Lazy J Wildlife Zoo in Eagar has been hit particularly hard after closing the business to the public. The owner, Jacob Roer, started a GoFundMe page to ask for donations of cash or supplies in order to continue to feed the animals. The zoo cares for over 300 animals and is completely run on admissions fees, according to Roer. As of Thursday night, the fundraiser website showed a donation total of $200.
The popular Eagar restaurant, Trail Riders, has been doing their best to weather the pandemic and the change in business, but survival has not come without costs.
“It’s really rough when you have 50 employees,” owner Melissa Hurtado said. “I can only employ three people at a time. It’s very hard.”
“Opening a new business — a restaurant — you think, ‘Well, what if this happens?’ or ‘What if this happens?’,” Hurtado said. “But this is something you could never prepare for or think of. But we’re getting by. And we’re going to get through it. The community is trying to be supportive, and we are doing some curbside [orders]. It’s day-by-day right now. It’s hard to think of what next month’s going to be when you don’t know what tomorrow is going to be.”
The Springerville-Eagar Chamber of Commerce plans to add the phone numbers of all area businesses providing curbside and call-in service to The Weekly Buzz, an emailed newsletter that is produced by the Chamber. “We are really going to encourage people to call in and order from our restaurants,” Executive Director Christensen said.
Fortunately, not all of the businesses have been hit so negatively.
“The Honey Shack’s farmer’s market has been doing really well over there,” Christensen said. “There are no eggs in the grocery stores. But we have people in our local area who have chickens. So, there are eggs being sold there.”
“The Chamber’s main concern is that it will affect our tourist season negatively,” Christensen said. Summer is a busy time for nearly every small business in the region as tourists come up to the mountains to camp, fish and enjoy events and holidays.
“We’re all holding our breath,” Christensen said.
Amber Shepard is a local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.