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In the same week that corporate-owned In-N-Out opened its doors for business, two local establishments in Old Town Eureka shut theirs for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to roll on. 

On Tuesday July 14, Restaurant Five Eleven announced its closure in a Facebook post stating: “We are closed till further notice. Stay safe, be good to each other. We can get trough this! #covid19 #governornewsom #wearamask #socialdistancing #washyourhands #donttouchyourface #besafe #bekind

Directly across the street sits Oberon Grill, which announced its temporary closure on July 16. Nick Kohl, owner of the Oberon Grill, told the Outpost that he had a gut feeling about a week before Governor Newsom announced that he would again close restaurants to indoor dining.

“I wasn’t surprised. I was was a little disheartened, but in the greater reality I understood why it needed to happen,” Kohl told the Outpost. “We were getting a lot of people traveling from a lot of different places and we couldn’t control the interactions.” 

The statewide order was a bit of a blow to Kohl, after the previous closure and the chaotic adaptions to take-out, delivery and eventually a short-lived indoor dining experience. He said that he had started to climb out of the red.

“We were just starting to get back to break even,” Kohl said. “This would have been our peak season, and it’s the middle of the money-making time. So if this closure lasts into the fall, and [restrictions still apply], that prohibits holiday parties which is our second peak.”

Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman said she understands the pain that some of the local restaurants are going through and that their economic stability is in flux even without a pandemic.

“Restaurants are one of the hardest-hit businesses whenever there is any kind of change,” Seaman told the Outpost. “They’re affected by a number of factors… and [the pandemic] is everything coming together at once. It’s tragic when some of them can’t make it and it is hard for them to make some of these decisions to take a break so that when this is over they can come back.” 

Kohl received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program and used those funds within the initial eight-week timeframe before an extension to the program was granted. He also received funds from the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan — a program that allows for small businesses to receive up to $10,000 in grant money. 

“I was grateful for [EIDL loan], because now I am looking at using that [for] overhead costs and planning for an extended shutdown,” Kohl said.

Kohl owns the space in which the Oberon Grill occupies, but said he took out a decent-sized mortgage to pay for a renovation. He knows about the deferred mortgage payment options, but figures that one month of deferred payment will eventually equal a three-month extension to the mortgage itself. 

When it comes to relief or solutions, Kohl said he first would like to see more access to testing. He’s been tested twice at the Redwood Acres testing site and was dismayed they are no longer taking reservations. (A friend of LoCO tried to schedule a test today, and was finally able to make an appointment to be swabbed two weeks from now.) 

Kohl said he’d also like the county to offer a prorated property tax for businesses that were forced to shut down due to the pandemic. In his conversations with other restaurant owners, Kohl said many of them have expressed feelings of helplessness, loss and fear. He said he knows of at least two or three restaurants that have closed for good and some others that are up for sale. 

“I’m getting worked up because I’m seeing businesses close throughout Old Town,” Kohl said. “I’m seeing an impact to our economy and to our lives that’s going to last for a decade.”

According to a June 25 study done by Yelp, restaurants account for 17 percent of the businesses that have closed since the pandemic has started, and of those 53 percent are marked as closed permanently. 

“Restaurants run on thin margins and can sometimes take months or even years to break even, resulting in this higher rate of permanent closures,” the study states. 

When asked about how he felt about the In-n-Out opening in the same week that Oberon Grill and Restaurant Five Eleven were shutting down temporarily, Kohl said he has been against the opening of the burger chain since the beginning. He understands the benefit of the tax revenue but ultimately sees the In-n-Out as a direct investment by the city into a corporate business. 

“When I see those lines of cars, I see five to ten percent [of the profit] just immediately leaving the county,” Kohl said. “Yes they added jobs, yes that parking lot is now full all the time… but it really leaves a bad taste in my mouth and it is going to happen again once KFC opens.”