Businesses face tough decisions in Keystone

Leslie Silverman

This is the first part in a series looking at the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a new divide throughout our country— whether governments should have the authority to close businesses during a public health emergency.


Keystone, with a little over 300 residents, is not immune to that debate.


Last week, Rick Brandfas, Keystone Town Board president, called a special meeting to discuss the next steps Keystone should take if Rapid City calls for non-essential businesses to shut down.


“After listening to Rapid City Council meeting live on YouTube yesterday, and having a conference call this morning with Dustin Willet and many others in Pennington County, listening to others in Pennington County, it did reinforce the urgency in having the emergency meeting,” Brandfas said.


One of Brandfas’ concerns is how it would look if Keystone bars and restaurants stayed open while Rapid City’s closed.


“Another concern was with Rapid (City) being so close to our homes and businesses,” he said. “And the fact that they will have a second reading this Friday, most likely passing and taking effect 7 p.m. Friday night, our open sign would still be lit and it would be saying: ‘Come to Keystone everyone, we’re open’...Our thoughts were mostly focused on what would be most vulnerable in Keystone for non-compliance of social distancing...that being bars and restaurants.”


Some local residents were alarmed by this action and took to social media to vent.


“Please convey to the board my extremely strong opposition to any measure which would involuntarily shut down private businesses,” said Gideon Oakes on Keystone Happenings, a Facebook page. “I understand the fear that is driving their consideration. It’s very scary to me, too.


But good leaders do not allow fear to override principles. We are a free country. The First Amendment specifically enumerates the right of peaceable assembly, and other Amendments prohibit government from depriving citizens of their property (including businesses). I’m sure plenty of others will address the economic impact to the town, but I want to urge you to consider the human element of the folks you’re considering putting out of business. We must work together to uplift our neighbors and not penalize them by outlawing their livelihoods.”


Business owner Tim Johnson looks at the situation from a different point of view.


“I have made some really difficult decisions lately and have even more difficult ones ahead of me,” Johnson said. “The numbers we are seeing now are from two weeks ago. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We need to do everything we can to slow the spread and flatten the curve. We need to take these warming seriously. We are not in a bubble. We need to do all that we can to save our summer. I’ll give up my April and May for my June and July any day. If we don’t act now our economy is going to be way worse because we stayed in our bubble and ended up being a day too late. We cannot put profit over life and health.”


Johnson  owns the Ramada, Baymont and Presidential Cabins. He also leases space to the Front Porch restaurant.


“We were supposed to open the hotels and cabins the first week of April,” Johnson said. “We are delaying it for three weeks and will decide if we delay it any further. My business partner has opted to close down things as well for increments as we overcome this.”


This move affects at least eight Keystone businesses along Swanzey and Winter streets.


Locally owned hotel Rushmore Express is one of the first non-chain  hotels to make the decision to delay its opening.


“Rushmore Express is officially closing until May 1 unless the environment changes drastically,” said Rick Greene.


Like many business owners in this small community, Greene expressed  his concern  for  the most vulnerable  and a desire  to help those in need.


“We are keeping you all in our prayers as this is a difficult time and we are especially concerned about our Keystone neighbors,” Greene said. “If we can be of service to our community in a way that keeps everyone safe, let us know.”


Even small businesses are beginning to shut their doors now that Pennington County has its first confirmed case.


“JL Knives and Whispering Pines T shirts and South Dakota Souvenirs in the Keystone Mall is closing,” said Lisa Perkins. “We have too many out of state people acting careless. No matter what we do to protect ourselves we can’t risk this.”


The risk is posed in part to Keystone being the gateway to Mount Rushmore, which remains open.


The park website show that on Feb. 28, the last published date 1,607 people visited the park. This is a 56.9 percent gain over last years’ same-day numbers.


Maureen McGee- Ballinger, chief of interpretation and education for Mount Rushmore said, “Currently, Mount Rushmore National Memorial grounds are open. When contemplating a visit to a national park, the National Park Service asks people to closely follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Slowing the spread of novel coronavirus is everyone’s responsibility. These measures include practice social distancing; wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and most importantly, stay home if you feel sick. For high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, we ask that they take extra caution and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of serious illness.”


McGee Ballinger adds, “park rangers remain on duty protecting the parks, and normal rules and regulations continue to apply. During this difficult time, inspirational views of Mount Rushmore may remind everyone of the strength of all the citizens in this country.”

Restaurants seem to be the hardest hit.


The Gaslight, which is located outside of Keystone city limits in nearby Rockerville, shuttered its doors this week.


According to their Facebook page, “After much consideration, we have decided that in the best interest of our customers and staff we are closing our doors until further notice. We will miss all of our loyal customers. Stay safe and well. You can bet there will be one heck of a party when we reopen.”


Boss’ Pizza closed its dining room but is still offering takeout and delivery options. “Effective March 25, we will be closing our dining room until further notice,” said owner Chris Glaesemann. “We want to do the right thing to control the spread and keep everyone safe to hopefully be

able to open it back up sometime this spring.”


Halley’s General Store, old Keystone’s local watering hole, has also closed temporarily for “the next month or so.”


Their plan is to open when things “normalize” again. Only BarLees remains open in town for dine in and is “practicing social distancing.”


Business owners are making choices on their own. After much discussion, Keystone opted not to force any business closures.


According to Keystone finance officer Cassandra Ott, “The town board listened to input from business owners. Discussion centered around safety of the public and economic impacts. Ultimately it was decided to create a resolution in support of the governor’s executive order signed yesterday. The resolution will be read at the meeting next Thursday, April 2 at 5 p.m. We are working on figuring out electronic ways for our meetings to remain public, without the risk of transmission.”

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