Even though he believed his Spokane-based cleaning business fit Gov. Jay Inslee’s definition of “essential,” owner Mark Silver pondered his friend who has a compromised immune system. Silver then shut everything down.
“I could not in good conscience send a team to his house, or for that matter, any of my customers’ homes and take that risk,” Silver said. “It’s too high of price to pay.”
The coronavirus pandemic has forced hundreds of local business owners to face Silver’s dilemma. Some have stuck it out, while Inslee has made the call for others.
Regardless of who decided to close the doors, many area business owners have told employees to go home with no answer as to when they might bring them back.
Nathan Brown and his wife started Maid Naturally some 13 years ago in their basement with a $250 investment. He’s had to lay off about 19 employees after he decided to shut his residential cleaning service down.
“I just hope this doesn’t last much more than three weeks,” Brown said. “It’s a very big question mark for us. We are not sure what is going to happen if this were to go on for 90 days or so. It could be pretty financially devastating.”
Brown also makes and sells cleaning products locally. But those sales made up about 5% of his total business.
“We clean almost 400 homes a month. That’s 100 a week that we are no longer able to do,” Brown said. “Needless to say, just product sales will not sustain us.”
Silver, 62, had to lay off 50 employees from The Cleaning Authority, which has about 900 clients and is part of a national chain of 235 offices. Silver also sits on the corporate staff.
“This is a struggle all over the country: Should owners stay open or close? We have about 50 offices that have closed,” he said. “The others are running about 50% normal volume.”
Even though Brown and Silver have shut their cleaning businesses down, some have switched their focus from cleaning to sanitizing and have remained in business.
Noah Gross, owner of Two Maids and a Mop of Spokane, said his residential business has dropped somewhat but he has also picked up commercial clients who want to make sure their offices are cleaned so that workers remain safe.
“We feel very strongly that we are doing more good than harm by helping prevent the spread,” Gross said. “We are doing OK. We also have a certain number of clients who want us to come in to make sure their places were not just cleaned but sanitized.”
Silver said he didn’t like the thought of having strangers come into his own home during the pandemic. So, he wasn’t about to force his employees to do the same.
“We were really worried about the safety of our employees and clients,” he said. “The last thing we wanted was an employee who tested positive cleaning with a partner and going into three or four houses a day. We didn’t want to be responsible for spreading this.”
Gross, who employs eight people, said he has similar concerns, but he’s taking all the precautions he can.
“I call (clients) to make sure there is no sickness in the home,” Gross said. “We are also screening our employees for symptoms.”
Gross said he appreciated that Gov. Jay Inslee declared his business as essential.
“It’s the hardest thing to manage a business and not have a clear picture of national health or local health,” he said. “It would have been nicer if they could have expedited the help and then said, ‘Hey, we are going to need to close you down.’ ”
Planning for the worst, Gross tried to get online to apply for a disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“The website was crashing so I emailed my documents in,” Gross said.
He called the SBA on Thursday to check on those documents. Gross said he started as caller 440 and was down to 200 some 68 minutes into the call.
Silver said he fears the pandemic will have even longer lasting ramifications beyond lost wages, lost jobs and lost dreams.
“If you think about hugging a friend at a restaurant or at weddings or at funerals,” he said. “What is the new normal going to look like?”
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