On the front of our building is a very large American Flag. When I see it and think about what it represents to me, I get emotional. It is haggard but it is there and has been there since March 2020. The beliefs that guide me are to treat people the way I want to be treated, mutual respect, honest communication, and helping others in my community. I do not always live up to these values, but I try my best. Anyone who knows me knows that they can call me out when they do not see me exemplifying those values. 

I do not claim to know everything about our government; I do not claim to know the constitution well. I just work hard and keep pushing to provide for my family, friends, and community. It is what my mom and dad taught me. 

They also taught me that we have the right of freedom of speech and expression; we have a right to gather to exchange ideas and create community and we have a responsibility to help others if we can. They taught me that those ideas and core values combined are what makes the United States stand out among other countries. It is why people from all over the world come to American to live and thrive freely. 

I believe that those rights and values are being threatened. Our government has throttled business unfairly and created a double standard that they have applied across different business sectors based on a set of criteria in the name of health and safety. Even though the Centers for Disease Control has outlined safe practices for all businesses, our government has not allowed us to apply them equally regardless of the type of business. It was just recently reported in Washington that a Costco in Yakima Valley had 150 COVID-19 cases but remained open because they complied with uniform best practices established by the CDC.

We talked with our employees after this last two-week freeze. When we opened back up for takeout and patio service, we asked them how things were going. What we heard was they were struggling at best and/or couch surfing or homeless at worst. Some are severely depressed or anxious, some are angry, some are just waiting to see what happens next and shrugging it off like they are used to being kicked in the gut so much it is just better to roll with it. I am painting an ugly picture here, but it is the truth. There is a gap in the world between the haves and the have nots. There is a gap between those that make the decisions and those that are victims of those decisions. These consequences may be unintentional, but they are there, and we need to recognize them and here in Oregon, specifically in The Dalles, we need to do something about it. We do not have to wait for the government to come up with a plan. As small business owners, entrepreneurs, free thinkers, and problem solvers, we can come together and make things happen.

I can tell you this about our employees, we feel they are family and we want to do everything we can for them. Also, regardless of how they feel about the situation they put on their best face and they work. They want to work. They want the same opportunities as the people making the decisions the “haves” have gotten. They want to be free to work and provide for their families the only way they know how.

Some of these people are single parents who work two jobs, both usually for minimum wage to make ends meet. When you take away one of those jobs, they simply cannot make it. 

We could roll up our doors and we did. We thought we were giving all our employees the best chance for aid when we laid them off, all 45 of them across three businesses in March. When we heard they were struggling, we decided to open back up. After all, we would be paying most of the overhead anyway if we wanted to open again when things get back to normal in a couple months. 

We are not doing any of this for political reasons. We are not doing this for money. You can ask any open small business how much money they have made this last year and you will hear loud, sarcastic laughter. We are open from the heart, following CDC guidelines protecting the health and safety of our employees and our customers by sanitizing everything, constant hand washing, and wearing masks. We do this because of our core values and because this is small town USA where anything is possible and taking care of your family and neighbor is the best thing that anyone can do. 

The Wasco County Business Alliance was created with these core values and, dare I say, radical ideas in mind. Our goal is to first focus on the economic vitality of Wasco County. Our intention is to share information, foster communication and strategize on how to work with other entities to build a strong economy and community in Wasco County.

Short term, we are doing what we can to understand options available for all businesses regardless of business sector to open and stay open safely for our customers and employees during the pandemic. We are also gathering information on how other businesses are doing the same across Oregon to build both short term and long-term strategies to message government agencies, understand our rights and responsibilities, and help our local community. 

Business owners are scared; every single one of them is in a different situation and some have made different decisions than we have, but they are not doing so lightly. They all have the same concerns we have. Concerns for their family, friends, teams, and the community. They see not only the end to their life’s work, but the community they created with employees and customers disappear. 

It is time to apply the same careful CDC rules across all businesses so that our communities can live and thrive.  It is simply time to Open Oregon. Let’s do this #TheDalles.

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