Richard Le is leaving Portland. At least, for a couple of days.
Le, who owns the Vietnamese-American food cart Matta with his wife, Sophia Le, has been thinking about what may happen in Portland when Election Day finally arrives. Watching Proud Boys gather in Portland again and again as Black Lives Matter protests continue throughout the city over the last six months, he saw the potential for violence and riots growing. So, he and Sophia made the choice to leave the city on Election Day, closing the cart at least through Thursday.
“We don’t know if we’ll find out (who won the presidential election) tomorrow or Thursday, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to get out of the city and find some refuge,” he says. “If Biden wins, the city is going to be stoked about it, but there are Proud Boys across the water. They’ll cause a fucking ruckus. If Trump wins, the city’s going to fucking implode. It sounds really stressful, and to be open in the middle of all that shit sounds fucking stupid.”
Some restaurant owners agree: The choice to be open seems, if not “fucking stupid,” potentially dangerous to employees and even customers. While some bars are simply closing to allow employees to vote or, in the case of B Side Tavern, “yell into the ether,” others are considering even longer closures, bracing for the potential conflict spurred by the election results.
In other cities, restaurants closing on Election Day is more common: the move is meant to give employees the opportunity to vote, or to watch the elections roll in throughout the evening. Because Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, however, many Oregonians have already voted by the time Election Day arrives; at most, some pop by drop sites that day to hand-deliver their ballots. However, the potential risk of violence or civil unrest has made Oregon business owners and public officials more wary: Gov. Kate Brown announced she would declare a state of emergency through Wednesday related to potential election-related violence, readying the National Guard for potential riot control. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project released a report saying Oregon is at high-risk for potential militia action connected to the election. So, in preparation, places like Vaux and Mayas Taqueria have chosen to close entirely. Some have even started boarding up windows.
“All the bigger, more corporate stores that aren’t based in Portland have been working so hard on covering their facades with plywood that it makes the rest of us feel more on-edge,” says Kristen D. Murray, the owner of luncheonette and pastry shop Maurice. “It’s hard to be light with all the darkness around you and not feed into it.” She hadn’t considered closing until this weekend, when one of her employees reached out, concerned about potential armed militia entering the city following the election. She hadn’t heard about it. “She was asking for modified hours, asking, ‘How do we do business and stay safe?’” she says. Normally, the team at Maurice begins prep early in the week, before Murray and her employees open for service on Thursday. Instead, she closed the pre-order shop, and let employees stay at home and rest for a paid week off. “Safety is paramount over the dollar right now,” she says. “It’s probably not the smartest business move, but it’s the smartest humane move.”
Angel Medina, the owner of Pearl District coffee shop La Perlita and the neighboring restaurant and dessert bar República, is particularly aware of the potential risk to employees. Medina is openly critical of President Donald Trump on social media accounts, and his staff almost exclusively consists of Latinx employees. However, when he talked to some employees, they wanted to stay open in some capacity today. So he decided to stay open during the day, run a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, and close up shop in the evening to allow everyone to get home safe. “On my own social media account, I’m very open about certain topics, from cultural appropriation to the exploitation of our people,” he says. “We’re an easy target. Regardless of how my employees feel, I’m the voice of these brands. I have to think about other people beyond myself.”
Still, Medina is cautiously optimistic. He hopes the restaurant can open as usual tomorrow. The financial impact of closing, especially after opening República just six days ago, is difficult for him. “We used up every dollar to open this place, so closing in the night is tough,” he says, “but regret is even more expensive.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the pronouns of the unnamed Maurice employee. She uses she pronouns, not he.
Updated November 4, 2020, 9:42 a.m.: This story has been updated to include Murray’s decision to give her employees the week off.
• Portland businesses boarding up ahead of election day [KOIN]
• B-Side Tavern is Closed Today So Its Employees Can “Yell Into the Ether” [WWeek]
• Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will declare emergency, ready National Guard ahead of election [OPB]
• An Eater Portland Guide to the 2020 Election [EPDX]