By Steve Woodward
I was wrong. After Governor Roy Cooper issued a statewide restaurant lockdown order — without consent as required by the state’s constitution — on March 17, 2020, I was asked to articulate my greatest fear about what was to come.
The topic was local restaurants. All of them were shut down at 5 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. Some immediately accommodated carry-out only. Others were not ready for an overnight transition.
My biggest fear was “that they won’t be here” in a few months. I feared many of our restaurants, both long established and newcomers, would go out of business. I was wrong. We lost very few in comparison to the nationwide averages; several reinvented themselves and soldiered on, adding delivery options, improving carry-out operations. A few new places opened despite the lockdowns and are thriving.
They did so despite promises of federal support evaporating. They did so despite banks demonstrating they were ill prepared to keep up with demand for funds moving through the pipeline from Capitol Hill to Main Street. They did so even as fattened unemployment checks disincentivized staffs from returning to work as restrictions on dining eased.
Local government finally awakened to the dire circumstances after a few vocal elected leaders stood up and proposed expanded outdoor dining, using parking spaces that often are unoccupied during evening hours. Southern Pines led the way; Pinehurst soon followed.
My forecast was wrong because I did not give enough credit to living in Moore County. We were under the same tyrannical lockdowns as the other 99 counties, but, apparently, we are blessed to live in communities with fewer hysterical residents than those who bowed at Cooper’s feet in places like Mecklenburg and Wake. Our locals recognized that adhering to a stay-at-home “order” was not practical and, potentially, the first step toward economic suicide and sweeping malaise.
Many, not all, ventured out to visit restaurants they’d never tried before. They learned that carry-out dining is not such a bizarre alternative, and when local dining spots added delivery options using smartphone apps we all discovered ever more great places across our dining spectrum. Additionally, customers heeded the call to buy gift cards with every order, to infuse more cash into the restaurants. Our Moore Republican Party then collected stacks of those cards and delivered them to frontline healthcare professionals at FirstHealth. A classic win-win.
Restaurant owners and chefs rarely wear their ideological persuasions on their sleeves. But we staunch conservatives share in common with these now heroic figures qualities that surely brought us together during the slog that began one year ago this week. We are capitalists. We believe in and defend personal responsibility, loyalty and liberty as protection from the iron boot of government. We prefer to earn a living, rather than living to be bailed out.
This story does not have a feel-good happy ending. Not by a long shot. One owner told me his retirement plans were set back five years. Many of the charitable pursuits that bind our restaurants to the community have ground to a halt, which means those in need have been temporarily left wanting. Some restaurants that closed temporarily are now closed forever, taking jobs with them. And owners of dining establishments and other retail businesses now know how easy it is for government tyrants to lock us down without regard for consequences, immediate or long term. American resilience proved too much for the tyrants this time. Nice try.
Thankfully, that is not the only awakening trigged by China’s unleashing of a global virus. There is this: The pursuit of absolute safety is the enemy of freedom, and a futile pursuit, indeed.