DOVER — Early last week, the owners of Dover Bar and Grill started hearing about a rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Deerfield Valley. Then they watched as visitors came in droves to spend the holiday week and decided to close until they feel safe about reopening.
“I agonized over it,” said Melanie Hathaway, co-owner of Dover Bar and Grill. “I was like, is this the right thing? We were all stocked up, had our staff ready. We were nervously excited about Christmas week but ready to go. It just felt like it was getting overbearing.”
When Melanie and her husband Jason heard some people they knew were infected with the virus, it hit too close to home. When they contacted staff, she said, “everybody stood behind us. I just felt sick having to take Christmas week away from everyone.”
Traffic at the neighboring Snow Mountain Market has remained steady, validating the decision to close. The Hathaways hoped to reopen after New Year’s Day but they’re still seeing lots of people and cars so they’re playing it by ear now.
Melanie said they tested negative for the virus and as far as she knows, everyone else on staff who got tested came back with the same results. At the time of the interview, she was still waiting to hear back about a couple of other employees.
Part of the decision to close involves the current atmosphere, where masks are required and spacing is limited.
“People are frustrated and they’re not behaving right,” Jason said. “Our employees aren’t equipped to deal with that.”
Melanie said the couple doesn’t want to see Mount Snow close.
“They’re everybody’s lifeline,” she said, suggesting the ski resort might need to decrease its current limits for capacity.
The number of visitors in Thanksgiving was manageable in Jason’s view. This week, he said, it seems to have “skyrocketed.”
Melanie said there had barely been any cases in Dover up until now. The business, like many others, was ordered by the state to close earlier in the pandemic at a time when it almost didn’t feel needed.
“This shutdown is different than the other one — it’s almost a little more painful,” Melanie said. “This one we did on our own. It definitely felt more necessary.”
The plan is to reassess the situation once crowds leave after the holidays. And Melanie keeps in touch with staff to gauge their comfort levels.
“We listen to everything they say and then we ultimately make the decision,” she said. “I said, ‘We just have to go one day at a time.’”
When the couple initially made the decision, Melanie thought they were being overly cautious. Then other valley businesses — including Valley View Saloon in West Dover and Dot’s in Wilmington — followed suit and others started offering takeout only.
“It was a tell tale sign that it was the right thing to do,” Melanie said.
Erika Holland, co-owner of Valley View Saloon, said her restaurant closed due to a spike of cases in the community.
“We are just trying to be proactive and keep our staff, families and community safe,” she said. “It was a tough decision to make during a holiday week but we felt it was the right thing to do.”
Holland said with the rise in cases, everyone should be concerned about potential contact with an infected person. None of her staff were showing symptoms but they were all getting tested this week, she said Wednesday, expecting to know more in three to five days.
“We decided to close to stay ahead of any further exposure and slow the spread,” she said, describing the nerve-racking process of retracing steps when learning about a case to see whether someone is a close contact.
Dot’s in Wilmington said it is in the best interest of its employees, their families and customers to temporarily close.
“We will continue to re-evaluate the situation in hopes to reopen sooner than later,” the diner said Tuesday via Facebook. “Until then we absolutely do believe that 2021 has much brighter days in store for us and we are looking forward to a time real soon when we can dine together once again.”
Patty Reagan, owner of Dot’s in Wilmington, said her employees are “all healthy.”
“We plan to keep it that way,” she said. “Certainly seems like a hot bed out there right now and I don’t want my staff to feel if they don’t come to work, they’ll lose their job. We are a team here. It’s in our best interest at this time.”
On Sunday, River Valley Market in Wilmington said it would be reopening Jan. 5 after closing out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety of employees, customers and families. Perishable food was given away Wednesday to local residents so it wouldn’t go to waste.
Larry Unferth, chief operating officer and co-owner of River Valley Market, said the store took a financial hit to close but decided “life is more important than the bottom line.”
“All of our employees are completely healthy,” he said. “We haven’t been notified of any cases through contact tracing or anything. We just felt we would be on the safe side.”
The West Dover Inn and 1846 Tavern decided to stop indoor dining for the general public for now but will still provide the option for existing and new Tavern Club members. Takeout orders also can be made.
“Although we are thankful that everyone employed at the West Dover Inn and 1846 Tavern has not contracted the covid-19 virus, we are very mindful of the fact that exposure has increased among other locations in our area,” the business said Tuesday via Facebook.
Margo Van Ness, director of communications for Mount Snow’s parent company Vail Resorts, said her group is “happy to be able to provide an outdoor recreation option, which we’re finding is so important during this pandemic.”
“Additionally, we feel a duty to stay open and provide this opportunity in a safe way,” she wrote in an email response to the Reformer. “We continue to prioritize the safety of the Mount Snow community, our employees and guests.”
Van Ness said the resort is following state guidelines including Vermont’s mandatory quarantine policy for those traveling out of state and expects guests to do the same.
“Everyone has a role in contributing to safe operations,” she said, calling the resort’s reservation system “an effective way for us to ensure that people have the space they need to stay safe when they visit our resorts. There are a variety of factors that we are using to determine capacity at Mount Snow, and across our 34 resorts, and they will continue to evolve over time based on available terrain.”
Van Ness said the company will not be sharing confirmation of individual cases of COVID-19 involving employees unless advised by public health officials.
“We work closely with them on COVID-19 cases and follow their guidance on reporting incidences that are of public concern,” she said. “We have comprehensive safety protocols in place for our employees including daily health screenings and any employee who is sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are required to stay home.”
Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, said on her website that she was aware of several local establishments closing “amidst reports of increasing cases in the Valley and an influx of holiday traffic.”
“Remember that we do not know the circumstances of an individual with out of state plates, including whether or not they are a local resident, a traveling healthcare professional, an out of state family member who has followed quarantining guidelines or a second homeowner who has been here for six months,” she wrote. “We have more than a few locals who are — often aggressively — denying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and openly challenging and disregarding the health and safety guidelines from the medical professionals and scientists hired by the governor the majority of Vermonters elected to lead our state. Personal responsibility goes a long way my friends. If you wear a mask and social distance, wash your hands, don’t gather unmasked to socialize with multiple other groups in confined spaces — you’ve done a lot to protect yourself, protect our healthcare workers, keep kids in school and help businesses stay open — no matter how many people are in the Valley.”