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COVID-19

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On eve of nonessential closures, Spokane small business owners look warily to the future

Travis Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Custom Jewelry in downtown Spokane, is one of a wave of Washington state businesses to close  following Gov. Jay Inslee’s  order. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Travis Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Custom Jewelry in downtown Spokane, is one of a wave of Washington state businesses to close following Gov. Jay Inslee’s order. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

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Travis Johnson had been bracing for a potential temporary shutdown of his store, Johnson’s Custom Jewelry, because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

When Gov. Jay Inslee made a proclamation last week ordering restaurants to restrict services and bars to close, Johnson took a proactive approach to sustaining his business by photographing inventory and building an online site while assisting customers through phone, email and jewelry deliveries.

Now, Johnson’s store is among a wave of businesses required to close Wednesday under Gov. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The order, announced Monday, includes an immediate ban on gatherings and requires nonessential businesses – many of which are retail in nature – to close for two weeks.

“It might have an impact for a little while,” Johnson said, referring to the temporary closure.

“Jewelry isn’t necessarily an essential item, but people still have special occasions. For some people, it’s still important and we are here to help with that.”

Johnson said he will be catching up on design work and creating custom jewelry pieces during the closure.

At 4000 Holes Record Store, owner Bob Gallagher said he’s remaining optimistic about the required closure of his business, but is unsure of what to expect.

“The recession was hard and I don’t want to go there again,” he said, adding the store is shifting to selling some records online.

Gallagher said he doesn’t expect the popularity of records to wane during the temporary closure, but he wonders if customers will have disposable cash to purchase them after the public health crisis ends.

“We have to see what happens,” Gallagher said. “I hope people will have the funds to buy records.”

For some members of the Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance, Gov. Inslee’s order requiring temporary closure of nonessential businesses wasn’t a surprise.

One restaurateur said the panic button was hit after the first wave of restaurant and bar closures, said Mariah McKay, executive director of SIMBA.

McKay said she’s contacting SIMBA members to learn how to best support them during temporary closures, especially sole proprietors and low-income business owners.

SIMBA is advocating for Congress to add small business grants in the proposed U.S. economic stimulus package to address economic fallout from the coronavirus, for a credit card processing fee moratorium to reduce expenses for small businesses and for regional organizations to track and measure impacts to locally owned businesses during the public health crisis.

Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Alisha Benson said there will be varying degrees of impact to regional companies during the temporary closure of nonessential businesses.

The hospitality and tourism sector will continue to see short-term impacts. An influx of questions surrounding business assistance and support grants is expected, she said.

Some GSI members are raising questions about what businesses are considered essential or nonessential. Others are inquiring about how to retool operations to remain in business, or how to begin producing products to support the health care industry.

“There is a silver lining, with opportunities for companies to innovate, retool and create different ways to connect with customers and delivery systems. We are seeing early examples on the West Side,” Benson said.

“For a lot of business owners, they are entrepreneurs by nature and are taking advantage of bringing products and services to the market, but in a different way. Restaurant and hospitality members have been on the front end of that. We are seeing many of them being a solution for our food supply.”

It’s imperative to solve the public health crisis and then focus on economic recovery, said Cara Coon, spokeswoman for GSI.

“Social distancing is impactful to each and every business,” she said. “As soon as we can get ahead of the curve on the health crisis, the sooner we can all get back to work.”

The temporary closure of retail businesses runs deep for Boulevard Mercantile, which moved to a new location earlier this month, said Dan Webb, who co-owns the shop with Joellen and Dave Jeffers.

“Not only does it affect us as owners, but we have employees and several vendors reliant upon us to run a good business because it is their livelihood to sell merchandise in our store,” he said.

Boulevard Mercantile closed temporarily last week and had to lay off employees, but aims to rehire them once the store reopens.

Webb and Johnson, of Johnson’s Custom Jewelry, both encourage the community to support local businesses once they are permitted to reopen.

“When it’s all over, we are really going to need to support small, local businesses in town,” Johnson said.

“Otherwise, they aren’t going to be able to survive.”

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