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Western Washington restaurants in Phase 1 regions fear losing customers to neighboring counties

While restaurants in Phase 2 counties prepare for limited indoor dining, restaurants in Phase 1 continue to struggle.

EDMONDS, Wash — The table is being set for many restaurants in western Washington to take an important step toward getting back to business as usual.

But not all restaurants in western Washington will be allowed to partially reopen their indoor dining rooms on Monday, despite physical proximity.

Seven counties in western Washington, including King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, are moving to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee's "Healthy Washington" reopening plan. This allows indoor dining at 25% capacity starting Feb. 1.

All other counties in the state remain in Phase 1, where restaurants are limited to takeout and outdoor seating.

"We will be able to bring back some employees and increase staff hours," says Jeff Barnett, owner of Salish Sea Brewpub in Edmonds, which is in Snohomish County.

When indoor dining was banned last year he turned his dining room into a merch shop.

Now that people are being allowed back inside, he'll be able to add five more tables, up to 30 customers at a time.

Barnett believes some of those customers will be coming from neighboring cities like Kingston in Kitsap County.

Kitsap is still stuck in Phase 1 and Edmonds is just a pleasant 30-minute ferry ride away in Snohomish County.

"I think people are stir crazy and ready to get out of their house," Barnett said. "We will end up with a bit of tourism involved with this."

Just in time for the Feb. 1 loosening of restrictions, the Edmonds Downtown Alliance is rolling out a Valentine's Day campaign to welcome people to their town.

"I think it's gonna be great," said alliance board member Jen Lawson, who also owns Crow Boutique in Edmonds. "With the ferry right here it's certainly part of the allure to come to Edmonds. We've got a bunch of new shops downtown. It's one-stop shopping."

But on the other side of the Sound, people will still be eating outside in tents.

The Kingston Alehouse is struggling to survive.

"Every day we stay restricted is one day closer to closing forever," said alehouse owner Tony Clark.

Clark questions the governor's plan. He says it's obvious to everyone that people will simply cross county lines for an indoor meal.

 "I don't hold anything against the people of Edmonds, but what about me? This is outrageous," Clark said.

As he waits for Kitsap County and the rest of his region to move into Phase 2, Clark simply hopes his customers will come back.

"I would just say if you go over to Edmonds, have a good time. Please be safe, but think about us when you come back tomorrow and maybe come see us."

Back in Edmonds there are concerns of a different sort. COVID-19 is still claiming victims.

At least one popular Edmonds eatery had to temporarily close this week after a coronavirus exposure.

Jeff Barnett believes welcoming tourists back inside will be a risky experiment.

"Of course we're worried. We're worried all the time, but we do expect that people will be good about this. We've had a year to have learned how to self-monitor, how to take care of ourselves and how to respect each other. At least, we should have learned by now."

Health officials, meantime, are discouraging people from crossing county lines for an indoor meal.

They say the goal is still to limit nonessential travel and contain coronavirus.

They will be checking on how well things are going every two weeks.

If the number of cases starts going back up the regions will roll back to Phase 1.

RELATED: Puget Sound and West regions advance to Phase 2 of Washington's reopening plan on Monday