Council votes in favor of temporary partial shutdown for Rapid City businesses

A second reading is scheduled for Friday, March 27th

RAPID CITY, S.D. – After two hours of heated discussion and impassioned pleas from the public, the Rapid City Common Council voted in favor of a temporary shutdown of non-essential businesses and public gathering places during an emergency session Sunday night.

In a 7 to 2 vote, the ordinance now heads to a second reading during a special session set for Friday, March 27th.

Aldermen John Roberts and Lance Lehmann cast the dissenting votes.

Community members including business owners, healthcare professionals, and representatives of vulnerable populations – pushed past social distancing to come to the special meeting and take turns voicing their opinions on the potential impacts such closures would have on the community.

Local business leaders came prepared to defend their livelihoods, arguing that only local businesses have something to lose and not their corporate counterparts that would be deemed “essential” under the ordinance.

“A large corporation like Walmart, Target, they’re able to continue providing non-essential goods,” one speaker said. “We have a local board game store, and in two weeks, if we decide to close all retail businesses, Who’s Hobby House isn’t able to sell board games but Walmart and Target sure will.”

Others went on to say the mandated closures of some businesses, but not others would only exacerbate the threat of community spread.

“The biggest spread locations are probably grocery stores, convenient stores, daycares, I can go on and on,” said a local business owner.

Dozens urged the council to reconsider taking such measures, asking them to default to the state’s actions in the COVID-19 response and let the businesses make their own decisions on closures. After what appeared to be an hour-long, one-sided argument, the room shifted once those in favor of the ordinance began to show up.

“We need to think about people, ladies and gentlemen, not your profit and not your bottom line,” said a woman who says she drove down to the meeting after watching the meeting online.

Over the following hour, other community members continued to hand in public comment request cards, feeling compelled to make sure their voices were heard, speaking in favor of taking action before coronavirus has a chance to sweep through Rapid City.

“When people aren’t abiding by what’s going on and the people aren’t doing what’s responsible themselves, including business owners, it becomes an order and you’re going to be in the same position three weeks from now whether you stay open or not. But one of those positions is going to be a quicker recovery,” said another local business owner.

The arguments of both sides overlapped when people’s livelihoods depend on business and their business depends on livelihoods. Ultimately, the council sided with what they believe will be the best step towards preventing COVID-19 from impacting us as it has in so many places around the world.

“I don’t think there’s been action this severe since the 1972 flood,” said Mayor Steve Allender. “This is definitely a game-changer and no one here is with a lack of understanding in what the disease will do to the local economy.”

The ordinance calls for places “with public consumption” to close to on-site patrons. In a press conference earlier Sunday afternoon, he encouraged curbside or delivery services to continue during this time.

Recreational spaces like health clubs, theaters, music, and indoor sporting venues would close and cease operations.

Essential businesses like grocery stores, retail stores, drug stores, and food pantries are not included in the ordinance and are able to continue business. Crisis shelter and soup kitchens would remain open as well.

Citing the uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in Beadle County announced earlier today by Governor Kristi Noem, Allender characterized the evidence of community spread as “beyond a reasonable doubt.” South Dakota now has 21 confirmed coronavirus cases statewide.

Council will revisit the vote Friday night at 6 p.m. and if they vote in favor of the ordinance, closures would begin at 7 p.m. the same day. Closures would remain until Wednesday, April 8. The ordinance itself would remain in effect for sixty days however, the council can adjust the dates at any point during the time period.

Categories: Coronavirus, Local News, South Dakota News