Mayor Stan Pulliam, of Sandy, Ore., spoke to a group in The Dalles last week advocating for a coalition of businesses who planned to defy Gov. Kate Brown’s order restricting on-premises dining.

Pulliam called on restaurants to open for indoor dining with the new year. He said the date was chosen partly to symbolize a new start and partly for the fact that many state agencies would be closed for the holiday.

On Jan. 1, dining rooms around town remained closed, with one exception: Last Stop Saloon. At least 10 restaurants remained closed or open for take-out only.

At Last Stop, staff appeared to be following guidelines for “high risk” counties in Oregon — Wasco County is designated “extreme risk” — the same approach taken by Pulliam’s coalition. Less than half of the tables visible from the doorway were occupied and customers wore masks to-and-from their seats.

Owner Todd Carpenter declined to comment.

Barry Springer and Kaye Smith, married owners of Momma Jane’s Pancake House, said they considered opening but decided it was too risky. Despite their decision, they are supportive of efforts to open restaurants.

Smith said she wants the state to show restaurant owners the evidence that their businesses have spread COVID-19. She said she has a bitter taste in her mouth seeing chain grocery store lots full while restaurants take on debt or close altogether.

Springer and Smith said they especially empathized with restaurateurs who couldn’t find a way to seat customers outdoors.

“For the people out there that are losing everything, I support you 100 percent,” Springer said.

Steve and Stacey Kane at Bargeway Pub said they would like to open at half capacity. They heard about Pulliam’s proposal last week but opted to stay in compliance going forward. Steve said they started investing in their set-up outside in June as part of preparations for a long winter.

Stacey said Bargeway wouldn’t risk losing their licenses — and the work and money they’ve invested in outside service and take out — to open. She said she has heard rumors that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) would go after employees’ licenses to serve alcohol.

Gov. Kate Brown released a statement Dec. 31 addressing the planned defiance of COVID-19 related executive orders. She said the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and OLCC staff can issue citations, fines and “Red Warning Notices,” if necessary.

Red Warning Notices allow compliance officers to temporarily close a business under the Oregon Safe Employment Act until “the condition has been made safe and healthful,” according to the secretary of state’s website.

“I expect enforcement agencies to continue to use an education first approach,” Brown's statement said, “but Oregonians need to understand that these rules are enforceable under law.”

The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce Director Lisa Farquharson spoke after Pulliam at last Monday’s meeting. She offered businesses a different approach to lobbying for less restrictive guidelines.

Farquharson introduced the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce’s “Main Street Matters” campaign. The advocacy campaign’s tagline is “Local business needs substantial remedies now, and they need to be able to re-open for good.”

Farquharson said several business owners are leaning towards joining the campaign as a way to “get their message to the governor.”

Last Stop Saloon owner Todd Carpenter sent a letter to the Columbia Gorge News in response to the story. Read his response here.

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