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Columbia restaurants work to stay open amid COVID-19 concerns


Gov. Mike Parson announced the first cases of COVID-19 in Boone and Cole Counties on Tuesday afternoon, but local downtown Columbia restaurants are still doing what they can to stay open.

"This is an extremely challenging time, to say the least, for our employees and for a lot of employees at a lot of other restaurants downtown," said Kurt Mirtsching, a manager at Shakespeare's Pizza.

Shakespeare's Pizza is one of the many restaurants in downtown Columbia that has decided to close its dining room but continues to serve take out and delivery.

Staying open as a business to operate is one thing, but the local restaurants also have to pay their employees.

"The main reason that we're choosing to stay open instead of close is because we build up an environment where we are family," said Benjamin Hamrah, co-owner of Beet Box, a small 20-seat restaurant choosing to stay completely open during the pandemic.

"Every employee that I have is a family member and we all work together and the reason that we're successful and we do what we do is because we're all apart of it," Hamrah said.

Hamrah says he gets the severity of the coronavirus but says he feels people have the right to make their own decisions.

"I understand that its something that is very serious and jeopardizes a lot of people, but I think that people have their own right to choose whether or not they want to come out and whether or not they want to support and how they want to show their support," Hamrah said.

According to the Missouri Department of Labor, Missouri unemployment benefits are available to people who are unemployed through no fault of their own. If an employer must shut down operations temporarily and no work is available, individuals may be eligible for unemployment benefits if they meet the monetary criteria and weekly eligibility criteria.

Matthew Schacht, who lives in Columbia, says restaurants are in a tough position because they may make a decision one day and have to change plans the next.

"Restaurants are all having to navigate this situation independently, and they may make a policy decision based on news from the day before and all of the sudden even that news is outdated so I think it's going to take a couple of days for this situation to settle," Schacht said.

Above all, Schacht said it's important to support local businesses in the midst of the pandemic.

"Among all of the concern right now, protecting and supporting the community is one of them because eventually this pandemic will end and we want to make sure that we still have a local wonderful downtown to visit and eat at and shop at," Schacht said.

A number of states have already ordered bars to close and restaurant restrictions however, Missouri has yet to make that call.

Rachel Norden, office manager for the Missouri Symphony said "You know, these things seem like really drastic measures right now, and they're really scary and it's going to be a difficult transition but I think its the right thing to be doing right now and I think we'll be grateful we took these measures.

Although each day the state and the country continue to see more regulations, people are still finding ways to the silver linings.

"This isn't a cave, its a tunnel and there's going to be light at the other end," Mirtsching said.

You can find more information about employment and unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic on the Missouri Department of Labor's website.

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Zach Boetto

Zach Boetto anchors the weekend morning and weekday 9 a.m. & noon newscasts for ABC 17. You can find up-to-the-minute information on Zach’s social media, @ABC17Zach on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


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