Community, business owners supporting each other amidst COVID-19 closures

Knowing the order to close dining rooms was coming soon, a number of downtown restaurants started transitioning to carry-out and curbside options earlier this week.

Small business owners and community members have also made the extra effort to support each other as COVID-19 fears have slowed sales significantly.

Heather Kunz of Broadwater Coffee said that on the morning of March 19, customers were bringing tears to her eyes.

Some made a trip they wouldn’t have normally made to the west side to support Kunz’s business.

One woman reloaded her gift card for $100 and purchased a $25 gift card that she gave to Kunz and her staff to use to pay it forward for the morning. The next four cars in line added money to that card to keep paying it forward and by the end of the day Thursday, there was still a balance on the card, Kunz said.

Another customer had to layoff employees due to COVID’s impact on her business and told Kunz that one of her regular vendors had offered to provide weekly supply deliveries to help those employees.

From March 23 through March 31, Broadwater offered a free hot or cold coffee to healthcare workers with their badge in the drive through.

At Enbär and The Block Bar and Grill, the owners are offering gift card purchases in-store and online with 25 percent of proceeds going back to their employees to make up for lost tips. The gift cards are redeemable in both locations.

The owners of MT Pints are giving $1 of every item sold to their staff during the COVID-19 closure.

On March 22, 2J’s Fresh Market posted that “as many of us face uncertain times at the moment, it brings to light for us as your local grocer just how much what we do can help and impact our community for the better during this pandemic. At this time, we have decided to stop all of our advertising. That budget will instead be redirected into donations and products to our local food banks, meal programs, and select other Great Falls businesses to ensure that those in need during this time are able to have access to resources and meals. We feel it is only responsible and fitting to do what we can to aide the community who has given us so much. We do have a small favor to ask though. While we will keep our social channels open at this time to help field questions and spread information, word of mouth about 2J’s will become of the utmost importance to us. We just ask that you keep us in mind when recommending grocers to your family and friends as customers coming into the store allows us to continue to give back.”

Local restaurants all over town have been purchasing meals for employees from each other and collaborating, like Roadhouse Diner using Teriyaki Madness meats in a special one-day only burger on March 21. It’s the first ‘burger mashup’ Roadhouse is doing with other local restaurants, including The Block, Clark and Lewie’s and Hempls. Udderly Fresh Distributing is also donating Montana-grown potatoes for Roadhouse fries next week, according to the restaurant.

Mike Cross, general manager of Republic Services in Great Falls, said that garbage pickup is considered an essential service so they are continuing to operate and their nearly 50 employees in Great Falls are still employed as normal.

“If we stop picking up the trash, it will get a lot worse,” Cross said.

But, to help the community, the company is buying meals for their employees twice a week during the COVID-19 closures.

On March 20, Cross said he purchased 47 meals from Electric City Coffee and plans to buy breakfast for employees next Tuesday from Double Barrel.

“We’re trying to really support our customers,” he said.

He’s also been in touch with Great Falls Public Schools to donate to their food pantries.

“We’re going to get out of this on the other side, I want the community to be in tact, I love it here,” Cross said. He’s been in Great Falls for about a year.

“We want to give back. We’re still getting paychecks so as long as we can, we’ll continue to give back to the community,” he said.

Cross said he’s a regular customer at Electric City Coffee and wants that shop, and others, to still exist once the pandemic is over.

“It’s a great community and we’ve got to come together,” Cross said.

He’s doing similar meal purchases in Lewistown and Whitefish, areas where he also oversees operations for Republic.

Haley Jensen, office manager at Energy West Montana, said their company decided to have lunch catered for their 25-30 office employees each day during the week of March 23-27 and will decide after that whether to continue.

They’re using local business as much as possible, Jensen said, including Tracy’s Smoked and JJ’s Bakery.

Thad and Heidi Reiste of Electric City Coffee told The Electric on March 18 that “we and our entire team decided it was in the best interest of our community to start carry out and offer affordable family take out options immediately. We adjusted our pricing to be affordable for everyone impacted in our community. Along with taking some additional stress off of families who are schooling kids at home and if they are like me stressed out. We want to take the stress of cooking for the family off of them.”

Starting March 19, Electric City transitioned to take-out orders only. Their menu options are available on their Facebook page.
Mighty Mo Brew Pub has “made the very difficult decision to transition to take-out only, effective immediately. We are sorry for any inconvenience but we are doing what we feel is right to protect our employees and community. Our hours will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and we will be releasing some take-out specials soon.”

Their options are also posted to their Facebook page.
Enbär and The Block Bar and Grill opted to close their dining rooms and bars Wednesday evening.

Mike Hallahan, managing partner, said they knew the order was coming soon and had been preparing for the transition.

“We wanted to be part of the solution,” Hallahan said.
5th and Wine has transitioned to to-go and curbside orders. They have unfortunately had to furlough some employees, but have retained key staff to continue providing food.

“We are a bit worried if this goes on for a long time there will be lots of our type of businesses that won’t survive … without a little help from our friends,” they posted to their Facebook page. “Please, please, please support our business – other local small businesses – shop local as much as you can!”