For Bernie Bradley, owner of the Bradley House restaurant, the December shutdown of restaurants in Anchorage was the final straw. By order of former acting mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, restaurants had to close once again, and during their busiest season. For Bradley, enough was enough.
Bradley had already endured multiple sudden shutdowns and partial shutdowns during the pandemic year of 2020, and she’d spent over $100,000 of her retirement savings upgrading the health and safety protocols of her restaurant in South Anchorage, where summer-times on the deck are a coveted destination for Anchorage residents. She felt she had gone to extraordinary lengths to make the restaurant safe against the sticky and communicable Covid-19 virus.
Bradley House, like other restaurants in Anchorage, needed more workers since the mandates lifted. Bradley tried raising wages, but that wasn’t enough, since the government was paying people so handsomely to stay home and since by the time the December government edict came down, the workers had had enough of the ups and downs. Restaurants, under Anchorage government rules that were in effect this past winter, could not even seat enough people to make payroll, and tips were lean. Workers moved on to jobs that are more predictable.
“They didn’t have confidence in the industry, anymore. I couldn’t guarantee them that the Assembly wouldn’t shut us down again,” Bradley said.
It was death by a thousand government edicts and regulations.
“That is when I realized, ‘they are trying to kill our jobs.’ Right during Christmas, here they were totally focused on millions of dollar for the homeless and yet they sent thousands of hospitality workers into poverty,” Bradley said.
“I was silly to think the Assembly was reasonable,” she said. “I would send them pictures of our barriers and how we changed everything. They praised me for it but would not let me open. I could have required my customers to be in hazmat suits, and my staff in hazmat suits, but because my business was a restaurant it had to shut down. They didn’t care.”
The hospitality industry has been some of the hardest hit in America in 2020 and 2021, and while many workers survived on the extra unemployment checks that came courtesy of the federal government, the destabilization of the sector by government edicts has led some owners to reflect on just how vulnerable they are.
Bradley started working in the family restaurant when she was 9, just like Trina Johnson did at La Mex Restaurant, on King Street, not far from Bradley House. Johnson also closed her restaurant a few weeks ago, for the same reasons Bradley is closing — regulations were tough enough before Covid-19, but with the virus and the business disruption that followed, Johnson said it was time to end a long family business tradition.
Bradley and Johnson shared their concerns about the troubles that stand-alone restaurants are having, and Bradley decided it was also time for her to sell. The building, the liquor license, the land is all up for sale now. Restaurants like hers, she fears, will be a thing of the past. The ones in strip malls may fare better, she said.
The restaurant’s final day is July