Editor’s note: Our new 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.
The empty parking lot at Amend Music Center’s South Hill location on a Saturday morning is still an unusual sight for the owners.
“It used to be hopping here,” co-owner Robin Amend said.
“I really miss everybody,” co-owner Debbie Amend said later.
The two-store Spokane chain was supposed to celebrate its 40th year in business this summer. Instead, it’s dealing with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while its retail operation ground to a halt and in-person instrument lessons were discontinued, the Amends have stayed busy by offering an additional service for large clients with a new, disease-related needed.
Hundreds of brass instruments from Spokane Public Schools, the Cheney School District and other local schools need to be sanitized before the next school year.
“You’re basically spitting into them,” said Robin Amend, who has spent much of the pandemic cleaning instruments at the store’s north Spokane location near Harmon Park.
Some two dozen instruments sitting in the South Hill store’s new cleaning room represented about a week’s worth of work for Robin Amend, he said. Hundreds more instruments returned early by students and collected from school inventories have come through the doors in the last six weeks.
The process, which can take an hour per instrument, involves an extra step of dipping instruments in a disinfectant, in addition to taking them apart, scrubbing them with chemicals and dipping them two more times in chemical tubs.
The Amends expect to see more than 1,000 instruments by the end of the summer.
“We’re really banking on the cleaning,” Robin Amend said.
Debbie Amend estimated the business has lost several thousand dollars in revenue. But the stores have been able to maintain pay for their two full-time employees and a few part-time employees through Paycheck Protection Program loans.
“Spring is our slow time anyway. Our only slow time,” Debbie Amend said. “But this was dead stop.”
She said she worked out a system for people to call the store from home or just outside the front door and provide curbside pickup, often for music textbooks during distance learning.
Robin Amend said instrument repairs also have been few and far between.
And individual music instructors who rent space for lessons have suffered, Debbie Amend said.
Kindermusik, a program for young children, closed and stopped renting space from the Amends altogether, she said.
Many instructors have moved lessons online, she said. But for some, there was no alternative to in-person lessons.
“My style of teaching is I play right with them,” said instructor Kelly Bogan, who had 50 students and is also missing out on a few performances at local venues each month.
However, he said he has enjoyed configuring a studio space during the shutdown while he lives off his savings.
“I wouldn’t want it to go on forever,” Bogan said. “I love holding an instrument in my hands, whether it’s teaching or performing. I do miss that.”
Once in-person business resumes under social distancing guidelines, the Amends could offer discounts or other promotions to bring people into their stores.
They also hope to have a 40th anniversary party later in the summer rather than in July, if state and local guidelines allow for it.
Regardless, the Amends plan to have their hands full in the coming weeks and into the fall.
“We’ll have a busy summer cleaning,” said Debbie Amend. “We’re really lucky that we have something to do.”
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