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News >  Spokane

Spokane’s small businesses starting to feel the pinch as customers stay away over virus concerns

Jerry Huston of Garland Mercantile and his friend Jim Sims pass the time playing cribbage on Friday, March 13, 2020, while waiting for customers to enter the store in Spokane’s Garland Business District. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Jerry Huston of Garland Mercantile and his friend Jim Sims pass the time playing cribbage on Friday, March 13, 2020, while waiting for customers to enter the store in Spokane’s Garland Business District. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The Garland Business District was abnormally quiet Friday afternoon. Its pedestrian-friendly streets were empty and some shops – normally open on weekdays – were closed.

Garland Mercantile owner Jerry Huston was playing cribbage with a friend while waiting for customers to visit the store, which offers a variety of locally-made products such as huckleberry candies and flavored jellies.

There’s been a noticeable decrease in foot traffic because of recent coronavirus concerns, Huston said.

“It’s going to affect business big time,” he said, adding he may pickup some survival gear to sell in the store.

As public health officials urge Americans to slow the spread of coronavirus through social distancing, small business owners are feeling early impacts as customers stay home or cut back on purchases.

Restauranteur Adam Hegsted said his catering company, Le Catering, took a $50,000 hit in potential sales amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Hegstedalso owns several restaurants under Eat Food Group, such as The Wandering Table, Gilded Unicorn and Yards Bruncheon. He said his establishments experienced a 25% drop in business Thursday.

“We will try to operate as long as its feasible. We don’t know what is going to happen if there’s a bigger drop in business,” he said. “I’m hoping that we don’t get quite as bad as Seattle because we haven’t had any confirmed cases. But, it’s inevitable people will be in a panic, so I’m not sure what to expect.”

The Spokane County Regional Health District announced Friday that any events with more than 250 people in Spokane County will be canceled for the next 30 days.

Gourmet Forageables and More owner Josh Yake is concerned that event cancellations amid the coronavirus outbreak could impact his business, which sells wild greens, fruits, mushrooms and lemonade at local and regional farmer’s markets.

“I rely on events for my entire income,” he said. “If people can’t come out, I can’t sell lemonade.”

Mark’s Guitar Shop – which repairs and sells instruments in the Garland Business District – has experienced a drop in walk-in customers last week.

“There is usually quite a bit of foot traffic, but it seems to have slowed,” owner Nate Corning said.

Corning has adjusted this week by refraining from making any large purchases and selling more items online.

“I think people are still shopping, but doing it from home,” he said.

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced Thursday its offering low-interest disaster recovery loans of up to $2 million for businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

“Washington has been greatly impacted by the coronavirus and that impact is being felt immensely by local small businesses,” SBA Pacific Northwest Regional Administrator Jeremy Field said in a statement. “The SBA continues to assist small businesses with accessing federal resources. This includes financing – working capital, microloans, express loans and lines of credit – and counseling services through the SBA Resource Partner Network to help businesses navigate preparedness plans.”

John Waite, owner of Auntie’s Bookstore and Merlyn’s Comics and Games, said the slowdown in customer traffic amid the coronavirus outbreak is reminiscent of when patrons stopped shopping during the 2008 financial crisis.

“People are being careful and I think there’s a lot of confusion about what this all means with the economy and stock market, and it’s hitting us at the lower level,” he said.

Auntie’s Bookstore is taking additional sanitary precautions by using hand sanitizer, wiping surfaces with disinfectant and encouraging employees to stay home if they are not feeling well, Waite said.

“We are keeping the store in top condition. People are safe to come in and buy books, comics and games,” Waite said. “If they are healthy, we’re healthy and we would have to love them come in.”

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