Restaurant owner faces balancing public health with staying open

By Michael Kinney

These days Scot Simco doesn’t look forward to the first of the month. Like most Americans the longtime Altus restaurateur knows when that day arrives, he will be paying bills.  

In the past this was never fun, but manageable. However, now during the days of a global pandemic, that chore has become outright unbearable for the owner of Val’s Restaurant & Pub in Altus.

“When this hit the first thing on my mind was my family and my employees, that’s who I worried about,” Simco said. “After that, I had to worry about taking care of our bills that we can’t do nothing about, like our insurance, our Workman’s Comp. Your fees, your license fees, they’re expensive to carry and have all your permits, so you can be open. Those fees didn’t decrease during COVID. They all stayed the same and you had to pay it if you want to be in business 

“Those, no matter what happens in our business, continue.” 

Now in the ninth month of what has become a global pandemic, Simco and other small business owners find themselves in an unenviable position of having to balance the concern for the health of their community with the concern for the future of their businesses. 

“My business isn’t back from where it was before the pandemic. It’s tough. It’s a struggle every day,” Simco said. “Then Altus now has 130 or something, 140 cases of COVID. It’s scary. We worry about our customers. We’ve lost customers that have passed away. This is a very heartbreaking, very sad thing that is going on.” 

Simco saw it was going to be a difficult path to navigate early in the process when non-essential businesses had to shut down for more than a month. Even as the bills kept coming, he found a way to pay them and keep his restaurant going by offering curbside and delivery.  

However, Simco doesn’t think Val’s could handle another shut down if it comes to that again.  

“We did the best we could. We did about a third of the business we normally did. We won’t do that again. President (Joe) Biden had said at one point during his campaign that he’s going to close everybody up again,” Simco said. “Well, we can’t afford another close down. We have all these bills still coming in and just because you’re closed, doesn’t mean you don’t have bills coming in, so we can’t afford to do that again. I don’t know how many businesses have closed down across the United States because of that. But we would be one of those fatalities. We can’t do it again.” 

After last week, the possibility of businesses having to close down again has become a possibility. The entire state saw record numbers of positive tests for COVID-19. That included more than 4,500 on Saturday, which shattered the previous single-day record.  

Oklahoma added another 2,197 new COVID-19 cases Monday. That pushed the state’s seven-day average of new cases to more than 2,000. 

State health officials said they’re discussing the possibility of new restrictions if cases continue to spike. 

That is not good news for businesses like Val’s who are doing everything they can to keep from being closed but also following the guidelines that have been given them by local and national agencies. That includes limiting capacity to 50 percent, wearing a mask and mandatory social distancing between tables.  

“I don’t think it’s safe right now to pack our restaurant with people sitting or standing and walking around and talking to everybody,” Simco said. “You don’t have to have a mask on when you’re having a drink or you’re eating. But I don’t want to be that place where you walk in the door and there’s 100 people in there standing around close together listening to some great music. It’s not safe.” 

This mindset has made it even tougher to turn a profit. But Simco understands why they need to be done.  

It’s not just customers who Simco has lost to the extremely contagious virus. It has also taken close friends. Therefore, he knows the dangers of COVID-19 on both the health of the community and the businesses sector.
“There are two restaurants here in town that have closed up for a little bit because of COVID. It’s just tough,” Simco said. “We have to get over this somehow. I’m not a doctor, but we have to get moving and get our country and our city back to running.” 

Simco is optimistic Val’s will be able to return to pre-pandemic state at some point. That includes having live entertainment playing on the patio throughout the week.  

Yet, Simco is aware for that to happen residents have to take it upon themselves to stay vigilant on being safe. He is encouraging people to continue to wash their hands, social distance and wear masks. 

“I’m a mask wearer. I feel like we all should,” Simco said. “If it helps a little bit, a little bit could save someone’s life.” 

Michael Kinney Media

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