Edit note: On Wednesday night, Seattle officially canceled its curfew order.
On Tuesday evening, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best extended citywide curfews for the rest of the week, as large protests continued on the streets downtown and on Capitol Hill for the fifth night in a row. The demonstrations were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed after a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while detaining him.
The extended curfews will be in effect every night until Saturday, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., which is a later start time than it has been since this past weekend’s 5 p.m. schedule. But the changing time windows, little advanced warning, and vague rules have thrown restaurants for a loop, as they continue to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to close early Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, so clearly it’s had a big impact on the already depressed level of business,” says restaurant Wassef Haroun, whose restaurants Mamnoon, Mamnoon Street, and Anar are located near many of the main protest areas.
“We are huge supporters of Black Lives Matters, and want to see justice and sustained progress against racism in all dimensions,” Haroun says. “The city could have handled this much better by making it easier for peaceful protests to happen in many places and by eliminating bottlenecks.”
Haroun had recently reopened Mamnoon after it closed temporarily during the height of the pandemic, and now faces even more uncertainty. The rules of the curfew state that businesses don’t have to close, but “they will not be allowed to have customers during curfew hours,” a seemingly contradictory statement. Basically, it means that there’s no direct mandate for restaurants to shut their doors — but since everyone has to go home anyway during curfew hours, they might as well.
Still, the mayor’s office seemed to have no direct line of communication with business owners. Kamala Saxton, owner of the chain of Marination restaurants, says that her Amazon-area location had been affected by the recent curfews, and was unaware of the curfew extension until Eater Seattle asked about it. “For the third day in a row [on Monday], we opened and then closed several hours later,” she says. “It’s grueling on our staff and business. Not to mention the emotional heartache we are all experiencing right now.”
Nearby global street food destination Nue also said that the curfews have been an issue. “We’ve had way more food waste than usual as 70-90 percent of our business is at night, and since curfews have been at 5 p.m., we basically had no night business,” says co-owner Uyen Nguyen. “On Saturday, we learned about the 5 p.m. curfew right around 5 p.m., so we had to scramble to cancel all these orders that were supposed to be picked up later that night.” Nguyen adds that making the curfew 9 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. should help.
Mayor Durkan instituted the curfews at the recommendation of the Seattle Police Department, which has come under criticism recently for using tear gas and flash-bang grenades against demonstrators. She and chief Best tried to defuse tensions Tuesday by speaking directly to a crowd of protesters outside the city’s Emergency Operations Center, and afterward Best justified the curfew extension by saying law enforcement needed to “have the fallback.”
In other cities across the country, such as New York and Los Angeles, curfew policies have been similarly erratic, causing confusion for restaurants and their workers. City officials intend to make safety the first priority when it comes to these decisions, but not giving businesses near protest sites enough time to adequately prepare doesn’t help.
Also, as some critics contend, curfews tend to disproportionately impact people of color, who — along with undocumented immigrants — make up a large portion of the restaurant industry workforce. With several restaurants in Seattle reopening for takeout and delivery, many may be commuting home around 9 p.m., after already potentially putting their health at risk on the frontlines of a worldwide pandemic.
Despite the challenges, many restaurants have showed solidarity with the demonstrations. In fact, Pagliacci Pizza handed out water to passing marchers Tuesday.
“In all, for a city that prides itself on progressive social values, we’ve shown very little tolerance for public speech and expression,” says Haroun. “I believe there is room for protest and business to coexist, if done right.”