Businesses on Nome's Front Street, including the Anchor Tavern, Husky, Golden China, and Maruskiya's gift shop.

The temporary closure of Nome’s local watering holes looks imminent.

During Monday night’s regular meeting, the Nome Common Council heard overwhelming support from local citizens in favor of closing indoor service at all of Nome’s bars and restaurants, to slow the current outbreak of COVID-19. By the end of the meeting, the council decided to hold a special session on Wednesday to discuss temporarily closing Nome’s bars.

Tuesday morning the City Manager released an order stating that restaurants will be closed to in-person service from 5pm last night through December 14th. Local bars are encouraged to limit their sales to take-out orders only.

At least one Nome cluster of COVID-19 cases has been traced to an individual who violated quarantine protocol and went to a local bar, yet the bars have not been shut down. Nome’s schools and other public facilities have been closed down and residents like Ulysees Hall think that bars need to make that sacrifice too.

“We have asked our kids to not mingle in large groups, social distancing themselves from each other and give up a few liberties, while at the same time, we’re not formally asking or mandating the bars to follow suit for a couple of weeks, so our local hospital can catch up to the task at hand, and our current rates can lessen to a manageable level. More importantly, help [protect] the well-being and lives of our elders and those with lower immune strength who had worked hard for decades to help make Nome what it is today.”

-Ulysees Hall of Nome

At the same time, Hall and others, like Melissa Ford of Nome realize the economic impact that would have on closing bars and restaurants.

“In conjunction with the closures, I would really like to see us reach into those Cares Act funds to help support the servers, the staff of those establishments.”

-Melissa Ford of Nome

City Manager Glenn Steckman does have the authority from Nome’s emergency ordinance to close dine-in food service. However, in July, the Council voted to remove the manager’s authority to limit alcohol sales, based on some citizens saying they thought that measure went too far.

So far during this coronavirus pandemic, Nome has not taken such measures to limit bars in town. Although the city did pass an emergency ordinance during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race that could authorize the shut down of bars and restaurants, those were ultimately closed via state mandate in March. During the spring and early summer, the city manager mandated liquor stores to close at 7pm, but not the bars.

Despite the community’s perceived problems with public intoxication, historically, the Nome City Council has been hesitant to make any restrictions on alcohol sales of any kind. Attempts in recent years prior to the pandemic to limit liquor store hours and place an excise tax on alcohol in Nome have also been unsuccessful.

At this point in the pandemic, some bars and social establishments like the VFW have closed until the end of November out of precaution for COVID-19; while others like the Anchor Tavern advertised birthday parties over the weekend.

While all of the councilmembers were dismayed at having to consider using their authority to limit local businesses, they all agreed on its necessity. Nome Councilmember Jennifer Reader described it as a “necessary evil” that, “screamed against every fiber of [her] being.”

“I’m deeply saddened that we have to because I really, really, really prefer that people take personal responsibility for their little piece in the world… But at some point, we’re not going to have a grocery store open, we’re not going to have an airline open, because everybody’s going to be home sick. We’re not going to have a hospital staff to take care of the people that are sick.”

-Councilmember Jennifer Reader

The final decision to limit indoor bar service must still be made in today’s special session at noon in City Hall.

Along with that conversation, Councilmember Mark Johnson asked that the Council consider using CARES Act funding to aid those establishments during the special session. At this time, the Council is not considering any restrictions or changes for liquor stores.

As of last count, there were 46 reported active cases of COVID-19 in Nome, a community of approximately 3800.

Image at top: Businesses on Nome’s Front Street, including the Anchor Tavern, Husky, Golden China, and Maruskiya’s gift shop. Photo: David Dodman; used with permission.