COVID-19 Plagues Businesses and Now — Misinformation

It started innocently enough when a local Facebook group hatched a plan to inform the Anchorage Assembly and the public that the COVID-19 mandates enacted by the municipality, had decimated local Anchorage businesses. The Save Anchorage Facebook group compiled a list of businesses that they claim closed seventy-plus businesses within the municipality. One of the listed businesses is Birchwood Saloon — but they aren’t permanently closed.

The Birchwood Saloon is a local favorite in Chugiak, Alaska, but it is also famous for being the eternal home of a poltergeist named Jack — a man who is said to have been electrocuted on the roof of the saloon. The saloon is even listed in the directory of the Haunted Places website — an attraction for some.

Birchwood Saloon placed third in an Anchorage Press poll asking readers to vote for the best dive bar in Anchorage, but even customer loyalty can’t quickly undo the damage done caused by a global pandemic.

Like many businesses in the municipality of Anchorage, the Birchwood Saloon has struggled and suffered through one hunker-down order and a second “modified” hunker-down order, both of which directly impacted restaurants and bars by stripping them of their in-door dining capacity.

Since the pandemic began, the Saloon has temporarily closed more than a few times as they grappled with how to acclimate to municipal mandates and COVID-19 itself and now, the purportedly haunted Saloon is fighting another battle — the battle of misinformation.

The Save Anchorage flyer, which was presented at an open meeting of the Anchorage Assembly this past Tuesday and which has been largely circulated and shared across local social media, has raised concerns about the impact the flyer might have on local businesses which were or are temporarily closed, or that have already reopened.

In the case of Birchwood Saloon — rated the 3rd best dive bar in Anchorage — one person affiliated with the business expressed concern that the flyer might give the impression that the Saloon is indeed closed for good.

A Facebook search for the Saloon shows image after image of the flyer — a potential roadblock to drawing in much needed customers as the Saloon moves forward with a planned reopening.

The same person associated with the Saloon wrote of the Facebook search: “This is what shows up in the search results now. It’s there forever and all I can do is try to bury them with other tagged photos. The effects of this are exponential.”

The owners of Charlou, another local Anchorage business listed on the Save Anchorage “RIP” flyer, reached out to me earlier today asking if I had any direct contact information for anyone affiliated with the Save Anchorage group as they took strong issue with having their now closed business listed on the flyer.

In an emailed statement, the owners of Charlou told me:

“Charlou is permanently closed, yes. But not because of the Mayor, the mandates, or COVID-19. The COVID-19 mandates that were put into place by (former) Mayor Ethan Berkowitz were understandable and we followed them happily. Safety was our main concern, during the COVID-19 version of Charlou. Our closure had nothing to do with Mayor Ethan Berkowitz or his dutiful response to the global pandemic.”

The owners of Charlou also took to their Facebook page today formally asking the Save Anchorage group to “immediately remove Charlou” from the flyer — not wanting to be associated with the Facebook group.

Anchorage Floral is another small business which was listed on the Facebook group’s flyer, and verbally mentioned in front of the Anchorage assembly meeting on January 12 — but they are in fact open and taking orders for flower deliveries in advance of Valentine’s Day. The Anchorage business takes COVID-19 seriously with all of their drivers wearing masks and sanitizing thoroughly. The local business has had numerous calls asking if they’d closed down — at a time when they’re trying to sell flowers for the busy upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday.

COVID-19 has unquestionably been exceedingly difficult for businesses and individuals to navigate. Some see the global pandemic as political while others take it more seriously, abiding by various mandates in the interest of protecting others. Some businesses listed on the Save Anchorage flyer have noted publicly that they did close as a result of both the pandemic and the business mandates — many others however did not.

For surviving local business owners attempting to plot a path forward for their business and their livelihood, fighting the age of misinformation is an extra burden they don’t need, want or can even afford right now.