In downtown Madisonville, the green neon lights are on. But for the moment, no one is home.
“There’s too much red tape right now,” said Phillip Ferrell, owner of Ferrell’s Hamburgers — a popular restaurant that reopened in 2019 after a fire forced the business closed for months.
A combination of factors convinced Ferrell that he should keep his business on North Main Street closed for now, even though other restaurants across Hopkins County have reopened for sit-down dining after a coronavirus closure.
“We will reopen, just not yet,” fliers on the door say. The same thinking applies to other Ferrell’s locations in Cadiz and Hopkinsville.
Ferrell gave three main reasons for his decision. They could be summarized as percentage, price and a prediction.
“I’d like to see it at 50%,” Ferrell said concerning the limits for dining room customers.
Gov. Andy Beshear’s current “Healthy at Work” guidelines allow restaurants to serve customers at 33% of capacity, to keep the virus from spreading. At Ferrell’s in Hopkinsville, the capacity is seven.
“That’s just a couple of stools,” Ferrell said of the Madisonville math.
Other restaurants with small seating areas are doing things in a different way. Not far from Ferrell’s, Golden Glaze is using three tables to steer customers around the shop to order donuts and sandwiches at the counter. It’s strictly to-go.
Then there’s the price of beef — assuming you can find any. The run on stores in March and April still is having an impact on restaurants which are burger-based.
“It’s been at six dollars or better,” Ferrell said. “There’s no place where we can buy enough beef to reopen.”
Wendy’s gained national attention recently when it ran out of beef at some locations. A social media post Sunday, May 10 admitted, “a few restaurants are in short supply.”
“I’m not going to turn a hamburger store into a chicken store,” Ferrell said.
As for the high price, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles have asked the Justice Department to investigate possible price-fixing in the cattle industry.
Ferrell’s prediction when it comes to staying closed is that the coronavirus is “going to spike again” in coming days, due to other restaurants reopening.
“They’re not socially distancing enough, I don’t think,” he said.
So for the second spring in a row, Ferrell’s remains shut down. Last year, the reason was a fire that required nine months of rebuilding. The restaurant reopened last June.
Ferrell added that his employees still are being paid, and he expects they’ll return eventually. Once his beef coolers are restocked, he hopes to serve burgers again in “two-and-a-half, three weeks.”
Beshear reported one new coronavirus case in Hopkins County during his Tuesday afternoon briefing. That means the state and local totals now match.
The Hopkins County Health Department had no added patients during the morning, but added four recovered patients. The local total is now 164 recovered patients, out of 219 confirmed. The virus is blamed for 28 deaths.
In other developments Tuesday related to COVID-19:
• Beshear said only 24 people took advantage of free virus testing at Henderson Community College by Tuesday afternoon. Only 21 had reserved times for today.
• Madisonville Police spokesman Andrew Rush said the front lobby of headquarters will reopen to the public Monday. Limits will be imposed on how many can be inside at one time.
• Mortons Gap announced its City Hall will reopen to the public Monday, with summer hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. But only one visitor at a time will be allowed inside the building.
• the website TrackTheRecovery.org reported the number of small businesses open in Hopkins County dropped by 30% between early January and Wednesday, May 13.