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Small businesses grapple with COVID-19 omicron variant surge in western Washington

The Tin Room Bar & Theater in Burien is temporarily closing as it weathers the COVID "storm."

BURIEN, Wash. — The small business community is feeling the strain of an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases as the omicron variant continues to take hold in western Washington.

In King County, there were 3,371 new COVID-19 cases since Monday, according to the latest available data from Public Health Seattle & King County.

County health officials have determined omicron has become the dominant variant in the region in recent weeks.

Businesses are beginning to feel the pinch as they grapple with labor shortages and other factors.

The Tin Room Bar & Theater on 923 SW 152nd St. in Burien announced it will close temporarily until the worst of the COVID pandemic is over.

"The last few years have been hard for everyone, labor shortage, limited hours of operation, forced closures, mandates, the list is long. It has been a storm of huge magnitude. Sometimes in a storm the best thing to do is lash everything down, close the hatches and hold out for it to pass and this is what the Tin Room is going to do. Hopefully in 6 month, a year or possibly longer this storm will pass and make it possible for the Tin Room to return in a way I feel represents who we have been the last 17 years," the letter read on the business's Facebook page.

The restaurant will continue to keep staff employed by moving them to Burien Pizzeria, which is located down the street.

While the Tin Room made the decision to shut down for a while, other businesses like the Pigfish Cafe next door are staying open and have been able to stay afloat as a mom and pop sandwich and burger restaurant.

"We've been able to survive two years of the pandemic and hopefully another year," said restaurant owner Mario Reyes.

Reyes and his wife, Victoria Loce, operate their restaurant together and don't rely on additional staff to maintain the business. They said they've been able to survive through takeout orders during the lockdowns and through the help from their customers.

"We have the support of the community, that has been great," Reyes said.

They are aware of the Tin Room's decision to close.

"It's a great place. It's iconic and what we love best about is how it preserves history for Old Burien," Loce said.

She and Reyes added it reminds them of their own vulnerability during the ongoing pandemic.

"We're hoping for the best and for the better," Reyes said.

The Washington Hospitality Association said restaurants are just coming out of the typical holiday quiet period and it is unclear yet how omicron will impact businesses.

"At this point, we're about three, four weeks in and there's a lot we don't know yet. But we do know how to be safe, we do know safe practices," Washington Hospitality Association CEO Anthony Anton said.

Anton said the association recommends business owners follow current safety guidelines, including wearing high-quality disposable masks instead of cloth ones, which are better protective against the highly contagious omicron variant.

"I think a lot of us are keeping an eye on the spike," Anton said.

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