Under normal circumstances, Jenny’s Cafe would have a crowded waiting area, full tables and a few people seated on bar stools. During the past few months, the business has received about a quarter of the customers it once served and has laid off half the staff.
Cafe owner Jenny Bennett hopes that next week, when the Spokane Valley restaurant gets the green light to open at 50% capacity with extra sanitation precautions, she’ll be able to turn things around.
“We’re pretty ready for it,” she said. “Everything we can think of, we’ve done.”
Bennett is one of many businesses owners who have had to make difficult decisions over the past few months, as businesses have been shut down by the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While Bennett has brought in some money from takeout orders, it’s been difficult relying on her family and working extra hours to make up for the employees she had to lay off.
Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled on Tuesday a process counties can use to apply for a variance, which would allow Spokane County and some other counties to move to Phase 2 of reopening faster than much of the state. That phase allows businesses such as restaurants, retailers, hair salons and barbershops to get back to business, with some restrictions. Less populated counties, such as Stevens, Pend Oreille and Lincoln counties, already have been allowed to reopen with extra precautions in place.
During a news conference Wednesday, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said she hoped Spokane County would be open by Memorial Day. Many businesses in the area are hoping to open their doors as soon as Tuesday, and local officials are working with business owners to ensure they do so safely.
The Spokane Valley Fire Department on Wednesday said it would help businesses comply with new restrictions on the numbers of customers they can have in their buildings.
“Many businesses do not have a posted occupant load and are trying to determine what their occupant load is in order to comply with the reduced capacity requirements of the governor’s plan,” Spokane Valley Fire Marshal Greg Rogers said in a statement.
Julie Humphreys, a spokeswoman for Spokane’s fire and police departments, said there should be less confusion within city limits, where every business has an official occupancy rating from the building department. The Phase 2 restrictions will define what percentages of normal capacity those businesses can serve.
“We’re definitely customer-centered and want to help businesses figure out their occupancies however we can,” Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said.
If the closures continue much longer, boutique owner Jani Davis said her business may not be able to reopen. Davis said she has been selling clothes online, but one day of sales in her store generates more revenue than a week or more of online sales.
“If we don’t have customers come in, we’re going to go under,” Davis said. “It’s really hard right now.”
Davis laid off all her employees at her Spokane Valley store, Jema Lane Boutique, and has been managing most of the online sales, with only some help from her children. She said she will reopen her shop as soon as the county’s application is approved, and she hopes to hire back her employees as soon as she can afford it.
Davis plans to allow only three or four customers in the store at a time to comply with the governor’s guidelines for retail. She’ll also do extra cleaning in the dressing room, set up a sanitation station, set aside any clothes customers try on for 24 hours and follow other guidelines.
While Davis and Bennett plan to reopen their businesses as soon as the county’s application is approved, others need more time to comply with the new requirements and are waiting until June 1 at the earliest.
Renee Hartshorn, owner of Bella Dolce Salon & Spa in Spokane Valley, said she and the eight independent cosmetologists who work in the salon wanted to make sure they were completely prepared to reopen and keep clients safe, so they decided to wait until June 1.
“We want to be successful when coming back,” she said. “We want our clients to feel comfortable and for us to feel comfortable.”
Inslee’s office issued guidelines last week for “personal services” businesses hoping to reopen. That category includes hair and nail salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors and cosmetologists, all of which have been shuttered since mid-March to prevent the spread of the virus.
Under the guidelines, such businesses must eliminate waiting areas, require employees to use cloth face coverings when working with clients and screen walk-up customers for symptoms of COVID-19 before allowing them on-site. Some hairstylists said they’re ready to meet those requirements, while others prefer to wait until restrictions are relaxed.
Hartshorn said she’s been getting calls from clients for weeks, asking when the salon will reopen. Most have been understanding, but some have been angry or impatient, or they went to Idaho where rules have been loosened to get their hair cut and colored instead.
She said when her salon reopens, it will be at reduced capacity. Hair appointments mostly will be the basics – only maintenance, touch-ups and haircuts so the salon can see as many clients as it safely can. Long, in-depth salon treatments and makeovers will have to wait until the salon is able to see more clients at one time.
“It’ll be a different experience for a lot of people when we first go back,” she said.
All salon workers will wear masks and clients will be asked to wear one as well. A mask will be provided for customers that don’t have one.
She said she is nervous about the mask requirement because she knows some people in Spokane Valley don’t wear masks and will be upset when she tells them they have to leave if they don’t wear one. She said she’s still working on getting all the supplies that she needs to be able to open, and anticipates that even with everything in place, it will be a difficult start.
“It’s going to be a little nerve-wracking,” she said.
Holli Cadman, owner of Rumors Salon in Spokane Valley, is facing similar challenges. She hopes to open before June 1 if allowed and hopes to have all the renovations to allow for social distancing complete by the end of the weekend.
Both Cadman and Hartshorn have faced tough financial times in the past few months. Neither business owner has been charging stylists who rent spaces in their salon, but have still had to pay all other bills while they were closed.
Cadman said she already had much of the sanitizing product she needed before reopening was in sight, and will have the rest of what she needs soon. She said most of the women who contract space in her salon are the breadwinners for their families and need an income as soon as possible.
She said once they are able to serve clients, they’ll focus on the people who had their hair appointments canceled in March and schedule clients in chronological order of their canceled appointments after that.
She said she plans to focus on existing clients to avoid poaching people who usually go to other salons and will consider accepting new clients at a later date.
While Cadman hopes to open Tuesday if she can, other businesses don’t have a hard date for when they’ll be ready.
David Bloyed, who has operated The Barber Shop on North Hamilton for about three years and has been cutting hair in Spokane since 1981, said he’s in no hurry to come back despite client demand, citing unclear rules and restrictions on his business.
“When we open up, I’m going to be slammed,” Bloyed said, adding that he was hoping to add more barbers to his one-man shop. But opening up wasn’t worth “arguing with some judge” about his practices, Bloyed said. He’s currently not taking any appointments.
Terra Coulter, owner of Studio One Hair & Body Salon on West Sprague Avenue downtown, said she’d spent the past few months providing curbside pickup of supplies for clients and offering deals and giveaways on social media. Studio One has eliminated its waiting areas and taken out communal magazines and beverage service.
Like Bloyed expressed, she said hairstylists are used to working closely with the public and that she was concerned her usually strong immune system might not be as prepared when she reopens, which she targeted for June 2.
“The one hiccup that seems to have created the most conflict between stylists, is what the 50% capacity means,” Coulter said. “Is that 50% capacity of what you normally run, or what your fire code is?”
Food service and restaurants
Adam Hegsted, a chef and restauranteur with stakes in the Wandering Table, the Gilded Unicorn, Incrediburger & Eggs and Yards Bruncheon, hopes to reopen all of those eateries except the Gilded Unicorn by June 1, or earlier if he can.
“We’re excited to serve people again,” Hegsted said. “I think we’ve weathered the storm and will be able to come out on the other side.”
The Gilded Unicorn is undergoing renovations that may not be done for several weeks. Hegsted hopes to open the other restaurants one or two at a time next week if he is allowed, or all at once on June 1.
“We want to be careful and intentional,” he said. “We’ve made it through to this point, we want to make sure we’re making good business decisions.”
Hegsted said opening the restaurants at 50% capacity will look similar to how the restaurants operate during the winter, and they’ll likelybring back only a small number of workers. He anticipates opening during the pandemic will be almost as difficult as opening a new restaurant.
Though the restaurant won’t have to craft a new identity or customer base, he said, employees will have to learn how to operate under new rules, and each of the restaurants will face financial challenges.
Celeste Shaw, who owns Chaps Diner & Bakery just south of Spokane along U.S. Highway 195, has been busy trying to pencil out whether she can reopen with a limited staff, while introducing all kinds of new safety protocols – masks, symptom screenings, spread-out tables and more.
“I’m not sure yet, until we really get the green light, what’s going to happen,” Shaw said.
Shaw laid off all of her 36 employees but hopes to hire them back. In part due to her restaurant’s location, she hasn’t offered takeout during the pandemic because she didn’t think it would be profitable. The only exception was a special Mother’s Day event in which hundreds of customers drove by the restaurant to pick up oatmeal and cookies for breakfast.
“You know, the bills don’t decrease by 50% in order to be at 50%, and it was the same for takeout,” Shaw said. “It still required us giving 100% to do a limited status.”
Shaw said she’s working hard to stay afloat but also counting on her customers to continue showing support.
“I really think Spokane, in general, has always been very good about supporting small business, and this is one example of that,” she said. “I think it’s been just invaluable to have that.”
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