Shadd Cullinan

Shadd Cullinan, owner of the Ranger Lounge in downtown Sidney.

Perhaps no other business in Montana, and especially Richland County, has been more negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as taverns. The cozy bars are popular throughout Sidney — and that includes the Ranger Lounge.

Under a directive from Gov. Steve Bullock, Ranger Lounge closed for business in March 2020. In light of the difficulties surrounding the crisis, Shadd Cullinan — owner of the Ranger Lounge since Jan. 31, 2019 — understood that’s what needed to happen for the safety of the employees and his customers.

Still, it’s been tough.

“Once the governor ordered it, we didn’t have much of a choice,” Cullinan said. “It’s awfully difficult for anybody to shut their doors to their businesses, but we didn’t have any other options.”

Similar to many businesses in the country, what happens next remains to be seen in the short- and long-term with the overall effects.

“We don’t know yet how bad the pandemic has affected it,” Cullinan said of the beverage business. “It could change what the norm of behavior for a tavern industry on a permanent basis is.”

The shutdown and subsequent reopening of taverns and bars because of the coronavirus raises many questions.

“Are big events not allowed anymore until we get a vaccine?” Cullinan asked. “Are barstools ever going to come back? We just don’t know right now.”

Since fully reopening on Monday, May 4, Ranger Lounge has taken several precautions to ensure safety as much as possible. The objective is to make those who may still feel uncomfortable venturing out during the crisis as comfortable as can be with the initiatives that have been taken.

“We’re lucky with the size of our building,” Cullinan said. “We can still offer the same amount of gambling machines as they’re all seven-plus feet apart, all the tables are six-plus feet apart, and we have no barstools.

“We have put some stringent cleaning measures in place and we even purchased an Electrostatic fogger that they use to clean surgical rooms, so we’re able to use that every morning,” Cullinan added.

Only being open since Monday, Cullinan is happy to see how well things have been going given the circumstances. Still, he maintains it’s too early to tell.

“It’s been great to see everyone back that we have seen,” he said.

Nevertheless, Cullinan is eager to get back to normal, not only within the tavern business, but in general.

“I’m as eager as you can be,” he said. “Nobody’s business model is built on a pandemic, so I’m extremely anxious to get back to the way things were.”

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