Editor’s note: Our series Enterprising Spirit documents how businesses and workers are managing the economy’s slow return to life after its sudden shutdown in March – and adapting to new challenges ahead.
Shania Wright, owner of WrightWay Beauty Supply, noticed her customers could see what was coming before a statewide stay-home order was announced in March – and they were stocking up.
WrightWay sells braid hair, wigs, weaves, ponytails, crochet, hair products and everything in between. The store has always stocked gloves, but as the pandemic loomed, demand greatly increased, as did requests for products she had not sold in the past: hand sanitizer and masks.
“We’re kind of getting into the hygiene portion because we realized the significance of it,” Wright said. “Now we have a very well-stocked inventory of those things, so that was definitely a direct response to COVID-19.”
Wright also has the help of people she’s named her “WrightWay Beauty Angels,” who have been continuously sending her funding to help people who can’t afford the personal protective equipment they need. That has allowed Wright to give customers masks for free.
“I don’t tell them because I love surprising people,” Wright said. “I just ring everything up, and I’m like, ‘Oh, and by the way, the mask is free because someone has already donated.’ And it’s just been nice, that level of support from the community, looking out for each other and using us to do it so I get to see it. It’s amazing.”
Wright faced a learning curve when the stay-home order took effect. Since her store at 2103 N. Division St. opened in September 2017, her sales have always been brick and mortar; she had to establish an online presence as quickly as possible. Three weeks in, she realized the platform was incompatible with her point of sales, and she had to pivot to a different platform.
When Wright, a veteran with the United States Air Force and Air National Guard, was able to reopen, she said many customers were surprised – and pleased – to hear she had a website.
“A lot of people don’t feel comfortable being out yet, so they are definitely utilizing the curbside,” Wright said. “So we’re still offering that even though we’re open and people can come into the store.”
Wright’s shelves have been a little bare lately, and she thinks that customers might be stocking up again in fear of a second shutdown.
Wright’s path to settling her family in Spokane took a long and winding road that started with her high school track career and came down to a focus on her children’s education.
Wright initially visited Spokane when she was in high school. She was living in California and ran track at an elite level. Spokane was one of the stops for the Junior Olympics one year, and the city made an impression.
Years later, Wright met her future husband when they were both stationed in Alaska. When they were trying to make a decision about their next permanent change of station, Wright brought up Spokane.
“I said, ‘I don’t know where I was, but I remember there being winding roads, like in Alaska,’ ” Wright said. “What I figured out now, as an adult, it was over by Life Center. My coach was taking that route to get me to that community college for the track meet, and that is what I remembered. So coming back to Spokane, it was because it was the closest thing that reminded me of Alaska.”
The Wrights were stationed in Spokane from 2006 -12, and it was during this time that Wright found out about the Running Start program, which allows high school students to take community college classes. She made a deal with her husband: He would continue with his military career until it was time for their eldest to begin Running Start, at which point he would retire, and they would return to Spokane.
Wright got the idea to open WrightWay from her experience living on bases in Alaska, Washington and Montana.
“Being in the military, it was very frustrating,” Wright said. “They don’t carry a lot of our products for our hair and for us to do what we need to do to maintain. A lot of times the hair care products are either not consistent, or they’re just not available.”
Wright said that often, when she saw a product that would work for her hair, she would buy it out because she had no idea when the store would stock it again.
“My husband’s like, with the frustration, ‘Why don’t you open up a store, and that way we can kind of be the go-to for the military as well as the civilian sector?’ ” Wright said.
What she did not expect when she opened the store in 2017 was the reception she received from the community. When she was getting everything ready to open, she said a young woman came into the store and showed her a copy of Black Lens newspaper. Editor Sandy Williams had put a picture in the paper.
“We were just blown away,” Wright said. “I’m like, ‘OK, who is this person?’ So we reached out and connected and she was just as nice as we could possibly imagine.”
Wright said her business has grown by word of mouth, and she is happy with her decision to raise her children in Spokane.
Wright home-schooled all eight of her children, and she said the hard work has paid off: Her oldest recently received an invitation to apply to Harvard University. Raising such a large family came down to keeping a tight schedule, and Wright said early on she attached herself to older families on base to glean knowledge.
Wright said that when she gets a big order, her husband and children come to the store to help put it all away, turning a job that could take her and her husband 4-5 hours into one that can be done in under an hour.
Wright was excited when the American Civil Liberties Union Seattle reached out to her about a promotion for Juneteenth, a June 19 holiday that celebrates the day Texas learned about the emancipation of slaves two years after the proclamation.
Wright knew she wanted to do something, and the ACLU’s program worked perfectly for her. The ACLU provided her with “Know Your Rights” cards to hand out to customers and compensated her for taking $10 off every order that day.
Cascadia Public House and Big Rod’s Texas BBQ also participated in the program.
Megan Rowe can be reached at (509) 459-5382 or at email@example.com
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