Homer businesses reopen cautiously under most recent plan phases

When Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced the third and fourth phases of his administration’s plan to reopen Alaska’s economy in the wake of the ongoing global novel coronavirus pandemic, businesses began preparing. As with the first phase of reopening, Homer businesses are taking things at their own speed.

The state has changed all mandates for businesses and some other entities, like places of religious worship, to advisories only. Mandates are still in place for certain groups like commercial fishermen, and the mandate requiring a 14-day self quarantine for anyone entering the state is still in place until June 2.

Meanwhile, businesses like restaurants, hair salons, tattoo parlors and retail shops can reopen to full capacity, if they so choose. Some Homer businesses that have remained closed through the state’s earlier phases of reopening are now taking the opportunity to open their doors, like AJ’s OldTown Steakhouse and Tavern.

The restaurant staff posted on the business’s Facebook page that the popular eatery will now be open on Fridays and Saturdays at 70% occupancy. This will increase to five days a week in June and then seven days a week starting June 28, according to the announcement.

Others, like the Alibi Bar and Cafe, have remained open but only in a take out capacity. Now, the bar is poised to open to dine in customers at 50% capacity in June, according to owner Nelton Palma, but the restaurant will remain very fluid in its plans.

Duncan House Diner was an early convert to online ordering in Homer. According to owner Luke Gamble, the restaurant is not expanding its occupancy at this time. Staff will continue to maintain social distancing of 6 feet between tables and workers.

“We will continue to wear face coverings,” Gamble wrote in an email.

He said the business will suggest that customers follow suit, but will not require it.

Additionally, tables will no longer be limited to those living under a single household, Gamble said. However, the restaurant will continue to only accept card payments, rather than cash.

Gamble said Duncan House suggests that people continue to use the online ordering tool, but that a guest list for walk-in diners is no longer required. He does suggest making a reservation, though, if you plan to dine in.

“Thank you for your patience and support throughout the last couple months,” he wrote. “Without all of you we would not be here.”

Grace Ridge Brewing, which had previously been open for to-go orders of beer only, is now opening its outdoor seating area, according to co-owner Sherry Stead. The brewery will host a First Friday event in June for artist Lydia Johnson, and will allow people into the taproom for that event in a safe manner.

“We are encouraging masks,” Stead wrote. “We will be wearing masks as we serve all our customers.”

The tap room will remain closed, except for special events.

“Our concerns are the health of our community, our local and visiting beer drinkers and having beer all summer long for our Homer enjoyment,” Stead wrote.

Retail stores like Moore Music are also able to return to business as usual. Ashley Moore said business hours at the music store will be 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We continue to offer hand sanitizer at the door, and our restroom is available for a hand washing station,” he wrote in an email. “Instruments continue to be cleaned after being tested by customers and we encourage customers to wear masks at their discretion.”

The store also usually offers summer music lessons. When those start, Moore said customers will be given the option between in-person lessons or virtual lessons via Zoom.

“Additionally we continue to rearrange the shop to allow for plenty of room for customer movement while social distancing, especially as we continue to get new drum sets and keyboards in stock,” he wrote.

Another entity that is figuring out how and when to reopen to the public is the City of Homer. City facilities were ordered closed to the public in March. In an update to the Homer City Council at their Monday meeting, Emergency Operations Center Incident Commander and Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mark Kirko told council members that the heads of each city department are working on a plan for how to reopen those departments to the public.

Public Information Officer Rachel Tussey said in an email that those plans have to be approved by both Kirko and the interim city manager, Marvin Yoder. The goal is to have plans in place in June for how to reopen those city departments.

For the Community Recreation department, Director Mike Illg has been working to find ways to safely reimplement indoor activities like pickelball, Kirko told the council on Monday. The Public Works department has been continuing its outdoor duties as usual, but their office remains closed to the public.

The same goes for the Homer Police Department, which is still providing its regular services to the community but is not allowing members of the public into its main entrance and lobby. Instead, a police officer is meeting people outside the building.

Kirko said the public won’t be allowed back into the main lobby of the Homer Volunteer Fire Department until they can reconfigure that space to make it safe for the staff members working there.

As for the Homer Public Library, Kirko said he got confirmation that the drop box is open again for books, and computers are in service inside the building again for people who need to use them. The library is considering allowing a small amount of walk-in traffic in June, Kirko said.

Opening Homer City Hall will be another story. While departments that house fire and police services are limited to just those services, city hall holds a number of different departments, which Kirko said makes reopening it to the public more difficult.

For more information about businesses that are changing their hours, services or capacity in Homer, visit the HOMEr-to-go Facebook page, or look up an individual business you are curious about on the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center business directory, at web.homeralaska.org.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.