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Portage businesses dealing with coronavirus with calm and caution

Portage businesses dealing with coronavirus with calm and caution

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Paula Amend saw fewer customers than usual at Paula’s Place in downtown Portage Tuesday prior to a statewide closure of taverns and restaurants for all but carryout and delivery orders.

And even before the closure she expressed reservations about restrictions on businesses being the right response. Amend said she agrees with the state’s decision to close public schools, but disagrees with the limits placed on businesses.

“It’s a personal choice,” Amend said of the people who want to eat at her restaurant. “But in schools, you have children who are not in the habit of washing their hands and they touch everything. They’re germ factories.”

Waitress Jeana Walter at Portage Café said the ban isn’t affecting her daily life other than the extra cleaning and her daily conversations with patrons.

“Everybody is talking about it,” Walter said. “It’s all over the place. Everybody is keeping their hands clean.”

Walter also said she believes the public and government reaction to the virus seemingly outweighs the severity of the outbreak but were nevertheless concerned about what’s happening.

“Everybody has their concerns,” Walter said of the virus. “I’m worried about the economy. It was going good, but now it looks like it’s going down. I think this is all being blown out of proportion.”

Amend, for weeks, has seen fewer cars driving by her restaurant on Cook Street than usual and the nearby Portage Area Chamber of Commerce agreed with that assessment Tuesday.

“Noticeably less,” Chamber Marketing Coordinator Brad Conrad said of traffic. “I’m seeing fewer cars and trucks.”

Conrad said that he and Executive Director Marianne Hanson spent half of their Monday taking calls and emails regarding cancellations of events for the Chamber’s online calendar.

For his 1-year-old child, Conrad said he’s utilizing the childcare services at St. John’s Child Development Center in Portage for at least the rest of the week, but beyond that things seem uncertain.

“My wife works two days per week from home and I can adjust my schedule and we have a family member who helps us cover our gaps, which is a huge relief,” Conrad said, understanding many others in the area are facing more difficult childcare issues now with schools closing. “We’ll make it work.”

A regular Portage Café patron, Dick Minnema, 79, said he’s not worried about his health despite his age putting him at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Minnema has worked for the past 56 years as an independent farm tractor mechanic in Columbia County and spent part of his morning Tuesday trying to purchase eggs — unsuccessfully — and talking to another patron who had canceled a trip to Dublin, Ireland.

“I’m sure we need to take precautions,” Minnema said of the overall reaction to the virus. “But right now I’m more concerned about the impact this is having on the little businesses.

“I’m iffy about restrictions on public gatherings,” he added. “I’m not sure it’s really necessary, but I suppose they have to do something because it’s spreading.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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