With Democrats and Republicans in Congress still unable to come to agreement on a second round of federal loans and stimulus funds for people and businesses affected by COVID-19, bleak realities are hitting home.
COVID-19 numbers are surging nationally, and New Mexico will enter a mandatory two-week shutdown for non-essential businesses on Monday, Nov. 16. Some businesses, however, are choosing to hibernate even further now, rather than face more dire consequences later on.
Patrick Lambert, owner and board president of Cowgirl, announced over the weekend that the sprawling Guadalupe Street restaurant will close its doors for three months beginning on Monday, Nov. 16, resulting in layoffs for its entire 75-person staff.
"There's still is a chance of government assistance, but we can't make business decisions on a chance—we can't make health decisions on a chance," Lambert tells SFR. "There seems to be no avenue right now for the health and safety of our patrons and staff, and the viability of our business is terrible in the winter…we can't afford to stay open and continue to lose money."
Lambert says the closure does not stem from any current or recent coronavirus cases among staff, though the Cowgirl did briefly close in July when an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The decision to temporarily close, he says, is merely about health and economics, and the ownership is "committed to reopening March 1."
"Being here 27 years," Lambert continues, "we know that March has always been a month where the economic viability is stronger for our city."
Lambert aims to reunite his team in the spring.
"We are hoping that every staff member comes back and I am here telling them that everybody is welcome to come back," he says.
"I appreciate that Cowgirl is making the decision to close during this time," bartender Katia Valentina tells SFR. "I can't imagine what a difficult thing that was to do. They're like family to me and I'm going to miss seeing everyone."
Valentina says the pandemic thrust most foodservice workers into more expanded roles following the first lockdown last spring, but that she's learned new skills as a result.
"Since we reopened after the first shutdown, it's been a bit of a scramble. It's really been a team effort to keep our ship afloat," she says, "I have to say, our staff has been doing an amazing job. It's really an incredible industry to work in. We are such a resilient bunch."
The two-week rules prohibit in-person dining, even in outdoor settings but allow local restaurants to offer to-go and curbside service during the coming lockdown.
BBQ restaurant The Ranch House also voluntarily closed on Thursday Nov. 6 after three on the staff tested positive for COVID-19. That Friday, owner/chef Josh Baum provided private testing from Pathology Consultants of New Mexico, which revealed two more positive cases. Those five staffers were asymptomatic according to Baum, and he reported those results to the state.
State rules say any business requiring four or more rapid responses within a 14-day period must close for two weeks, and while the restaurant technically met that criteria, Baum says he was told he didn't have to stop business. He chose to anyway.
"We thought…we don't have a handle on it," he says, "but we made the decision it was in the best interest of our staff."
The state followed up with a letter ordering The Ranch House to cease operations until Nov. 20.
Additionally, the Southside's Pantry Dos made the Environment Department's COVID-19 Watchlist as of Friday, Nov. 13 with two rapid responses in the last two weeks.
Meanwhile, Cowgirl's last day of service for now is today.
"I just have to say our Cowgirl family and staff have been so supportive and resilient and working their asses off doing one-and-a-half jobs," Lambert says. "It's a sad day. There's a lot of tears here today."
A potential gofundme.com crowd funding campaign for staff could pop up in the coming days, though Lambert tells SFR no such fund has been created just yet.
Editor's note: We have updated this story to include comment from Baum.