Berkowitz mug

Despite opposition from Anchorage business owners over what they see as discriminatory favoritism toward some businesses over others, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has doubled down on his emergency closure of all businesses he deems “non-essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the backing of the Anchorage Assembly, Berkowitz extended his closure of “non-essential” businesses until May 5. This includes companies asking if they can simply provide curbside and delivery services while observing the same health and safety guidelines as businesses deemed “essential.”

On April 14, the Assembly voted to extend the mayor’s emergency powers which he quickly used to update and extend his “hunker down” orders.

His one caveat was to allow for two people (instead of just one) to be inside closed, non-critical businesses in order to perform maintenance, payroll or online orders. They may not, however, operate curbside or offer delivery services.

The lack of relief for business owners who have been forcibly shut down since March 22, stirred impassioned testimony during the Assembly meeting.

Assembly members received hundreds of emails on the subject, and more than a dozen business owners and community members testified via phone during the April 14 Assembly meeting.

All local retailers should be afforded the same limited opportunity to operate while maintaining the highest health safety standards…

Dan Newman, who owns an online auction business in Anchorage and employs eight full time employees, said Berkowitz’s closure of non-essential businesses seems arbitrary. His testimony was echoed by others.

“I’m not a political person but I feel this issue is impacting my life and the lives of those around me to the point that I need to speak up today,” he said. “I’m also actively involved in the business community through many different organizations and I’ve received the support and backing of many small business owners that agree with my statement today.”

Newman said the he and other small businesses cannot survive another two to six weeks with zero revenue coming in.

“When the mayor gets to make seemingly arbitrary decisions on who is essential versus who is non-essential, he gets to decide who wins and who loses, whose businesses survive and whose doesn’t,” he said. “Let’s face it, bicycle stores selling bikes, ice cream parlors selling ice cream, flower shops selling bouquets of roses, and toy stores selling educational toys – none of these businesses are essential to the preservation of life, yet they’ve been deemed essential. If a local restaurant is allowed to take contact list, curbside delivery and pick up orders, then all local retailers should be afforded the same limited opportunity to operate while maintaining the highest health safety standards and following all health recommendations.”

“The real topic we should be discussing is looking at businesses that can operate safely versus those that cannot.”

The mayor’s essential business list includes recreational marijuana shops, restaurants, sewing and quilting shops, food trucks and others.

Newman said that the question should not be about which businesses are deemed “essential” or “non-essential” by the mayor.

“The real topic we should be discussing is looking at businesses that can operate safely versus those that cannot based on the current national and state guidelines on health and safety,” he said. “It is also extremely important to remember that every single day UPS, FedEx and USPS are making thousands of deliveries of both essential and nonessential items that could be sold via local small businesses.”

Others testified that the mayor’s emergency orders exceed both state guidelines and what is necessary to maintain the health and safety of citizens.

Of the 13 people who testified via phone, 11 opposed the mayor’s hunker down extension, while two were in favor.

The main complaint centers around whether businesses deemed non-essential can provide services in the same manner as those labeled “essential.” If they can, they should be allowed to operate in accordance with current safety guidelines.

Berkowitz, however, said he plans to keep his orders in place for the time being.

“We are contending with a pandemic,” he told the Assembly. “The disease still lurks out there.”

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Anchorage business owners say mayor’s pandemic order is arbitrary

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 20 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.