The power briefly went out last week in Calistoga while firefighters extinguished a conflagration in town. "It didn't affect us," says Barbara Jolly with a laugh. She runs Buster's Southern BBQ in town with her husband—the power outage didn't affect them because they were closed.
Buster's was shuttered weeks ago over an outdoor construction project that Calistoga officials deemed unsafe—an awning and a wall had to be removed, or scaled back. The town shut the restaurant down, and fined Buster's $500 a day until the outdoor project was up to code. Jolly reports happily that Buster's is back in business at last.
Even while Jolly admits that Buster is "a man that doesn't like to get permits all the time," she also wonders why Calistoga directed such a hard line at a local business—in light of the 2017 wildfires and their impact on small business. And she insists that the restaurant is itself totally up to code and legit.
Buster's is looking at thousands of dollars in fines, lawyer's fees and lost revenue. "It doesn't make sense," she says. "We do have a good business, but our business has been down since the fire. All the townspeople—all their businesses are down. Everybody's hurting."
Jolly wishes Calistoga would have let them keep the restaurant open while they dealt with the outdoor project to enhance an existing stage. "We could have closed it off, we could have blocked it, we could have closed the parking lot—just let us stay open." Jolly says she paid her 15 employees, all of them Hispanic, during the shutdown.
As the region reflects on the 2017 fires this week, it does so at the precipice of a potential economic recession, and fallout from the fires that is taking a toll on small businesses. Moving forward, let's hope leaders keep these larger issues in mind as they deal with local permitting issues. Of course, businesses looking to expand or upgrade ought to do so with local approval, but maybe there's a better way to enforce local codes in an ongoing state of emergency than by clipping a business with onerous fines.
Buster's is back up and running and could really use a shot in the arm from the community that's loved this iconic barbecue joint for almost 20 years. We'll see you there.
Tom Gogola is the News and Features editor of the 'Bohemian' and 'Pacific Sun.'
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