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Local gyms, grocers and restaurant groups plead for help as new restrictions put in place

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 15, 2020

Maria Friesen sterilizes machines in June 2020 at one of MUV Fitness’ workout zones, designed to keep patrons socially distanced, at MUV’s north Spokane location.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Maria Friesen sterilizes machines in June 2020 at one of MUV Fitness’ workout zones, designed to keep patrons socially distanced, at MUV’s north Spokane location. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Owners and trade groups representing industries affected by Gov. Jay Inslee’s new coronavirus restrictions warned of more shuttered businesses and asked customers to remain patient in the coming weeks.

Derek Baziotis, owner of Bene’s in Cheney, said the announcement was a stab in the back.

Baziotis estimated 90% of local restaurants have been complying with limiting capacity, mask wearing and social distancing, which has in turn limited the spread of COVID-19.

The majority of the spread is coming from private gatherings, which closing restaurants will encourage, Baziotis said.

“The restaurants are keeping people safe,” Baziotis said. “If you don’t have a bar to go to, where are you going to watch the football game?”

Representatives of the restaurant industry, which on Friday called for Inslee not to end in-person dining as it would lead to job losses totaling 100,000 workers, also asked for help from both the state and the federal government in the coming weeks.

“This industry was hanging by a thread before today,” said Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, during a news conference after Inslee’s announcement. “If this is our decision, we need relief.”

Anton said he hadn’t received specifics yet from Inslee’s office on the $50 million in additional aid the governor announced Sunday morning.

“In spite of my frustration at the moment, we are committed to working with the administration to help as many people and their job loss, and as many small businesses as we can,” Anton said.

“I can’t comment on what I haven’t seen,” Anton added.

When the initial “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order happened, Baziotis made the decision to completely close Bene’s, which mainly serves breakfast. Much of his clientele is elderly, and breakfast items don’t often hold up well to takeout, Baziotis said.

Eventually, Bene’s was able to reopen with the help of a federal paycheck protection loan. Ultimately the loan ran out and Baziotis had to reduce staff members hours to keep everyone on.

“Now there are people we’re going to have to put back on unemployment,” Baziotis said.

The food service industry has always been careful about cleanliness, Baziotis said, but after the need for personal protective equipment rose in other industries so did prices. He said the cost of gloves and other items increased significantly.

The community support is the one thing that has gotten Baziotis through the pandemic, he said.

“The community has really come out and said we’re going to support you and do everything that we can for you,” he said.

Washington Hospitality Association members in the Cheney and Medical Lake area anticipated the possibility of a closure of in-person dining and began working to bring in a third-party delivery service, Baziotis said.

Two weeks ago Eagle Bites, a local delivery service, began offering delivery with most restaurants in the area signed up, Baziotis said.

“We have that avenue where if we didn’t have that we would probably be done, we would shut it down,” he said.

Businesses say customers must be responsible

The Association of Washington Business joined Inslee in asking Washingtonians to make responsible decisions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in a statement Sunday, while also touting the work employers have done over the last eight months to keep both employees and the general public safe.

“Employers have not only adapted; they have led the way,” said Kris Johnson, president of the association. “At this critical moment, it’s imperative that all Washingtonians do their part – at work and home.”

The association said new restrictions will be another “significant setback” to struggling businesses and there needs to be a way to reduce spread without closing more businesses.

“Recent news about vaccine development is encouraging, but we fear the restrictions announced today will cause more businesses to close their doors before a vaccine can be deployed,” Johnson wrote. “This only makes the need for both state and federal aid more urgent.”

The Washington Food Industry Association, that represents independent grocers and convenience stores, encouraged customers to be kind to employees and not take their frustration out on them.

“Shoppers: Please do not take your frustrations out on store employees, who are just doing their jobs,” said Tammie Hetrick, incoming president and CEO, in a statement.

Safety for employees and customers remains grocers’ top priority, Hetrick said.

“Since the early days of the outbreak, grocery stores have complied with COVID regulations – masking up, sanitizing, and providing clean, safe shopping experiences,” she said. “Now, our members are asking for your continued patience as local grocers adjust to operating under these new rules during the busiest shopping season of the year.”

Larger grocery chains, including Safeway and Albertsons, which are owned by the same parent company, said they will closely monitor and enforce 25% capacity guidelines.

“In all stores in Washington, only one entrance will be open, with an employee stationed at the entrance during peak times to monitor customer numbers entering and exiting the stores,” the company said in a statement.

The stores will continue to offer special senior and medically vulnerable shopping hours and alternatives to in-store shopping like grocery pickup.

The company encouraged shoppers to maintain their normal shopping habits and avoid stockpiling food.

“As we have learned through the initial lockdowns, our stores will remain open, so there is no reason to stock pantries as if preparing for a natural disaster that would shut down businesses entirely,” a Safeway and Albertsons statement reads.

The stores are placing purchasing limits on certain items, including toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, vitamins, and other cleaning products.

Spokane retailers felt the impact even as Inslee was wrapping up his speech.

By 11:30 a.m. the Costco store in Spokane Valley was at capacity, with more than 100 customers forming a line that stretched halfway around the store.

At the Safeway on 29th Avenue, the toilet paper aisle was almost empty, a sign that hoarding had begun anew.

Despite a sign requiring a limit of two packs per customer, one middle-aged man loaded up packages.

“Two for me and two for my wife,” said the man, who declined to give his name.

Gym owners ‘dismayed’ about restrictions

The Washington Fitness Alliance said in a statement Sunday they are “surprised and dismayed” at the new restrictions.

“The month-long closure will lead to the permanent closure of many small businesses across the state who are barely making ends meet under the current restrictions,” the statement read. “The month-long closure will lead to the permanent closure of many small businesses across the state who are barely making ends meet under the current restrictions.”

The association requested immediate reconsideration of the restrictions closing gyms and other indoor fitness facilities.

Gym owner Krystal Collazo said the changes are painful but necessary. Collazo owns Spin City, an indoor cycling gym, with her fiancé Jared Muller. The gym had its first profitable month in February, just before the initial stay-home order.

Now the gym will shutter their doors again, Collazo said.

“I don’t even know if we’ll be able to reopen, honestly,” Collazo said.

Spin City closed during the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and reopened with limited capacity on June 3, their one-year anniversary. The gym had two locations but has since closed one due to the high operating costs and low class size and attendance, Collazo said.

While classes were full in October, in recent weeks with COVID-19 spiking, customers have been more hesitant to attend classes.

“It’s kind of a hit-and-miss,” Collazo said. “This past week has been really slow for us.”

For Collazo, who is in her third semester of nursing school, the business and teaching cycling classes has been a distraction from the stresses COVID-19 has brought in every area of life.

Despite increased regulations, small class sizes, and lots of cleaning, Collazo said keeping the business open has been worth it.

“It definitely is a lot of work, but when I’m there I just feel so much better,” Collazo said. “I want to be able to create this space for people where they can forget for a minute. I feel sad because this is an outlet for people.”

Other retail also restricted

For Chic & Shab, a furniture and home decor store on Monroe Street with 18 different vendors, the new restrictions likely won’t have a major effect, said owner Jenny Cashion.

“My store is already limited to 25% capacity anyways, so I feel like the most recent restrictions don’t affect me a whole lot,” Cashion said.

Cashion held her holiday event last weekend over two days with limited food and extended hours, hoping to draw lots of customers in at a steady pace.

She also joined 12 other local businesses that offer used or vintage goods to put on “Follow the Resale Trail,” a two-week-long event offering prizes to customers who visit all the participating businesses.

The event was created by the owner of Garland Resale Boutique. It’s a way to bring a steady trickle of customers into locally owned shops when traditional holiday shopping events aren’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Enforcing those new restrictions will fall on local law enforcement. Spokane Police Department spokeswoman Julie Humphreys said the department plants to continue focusing on education over enforcement.

“As time goes on, we will of course adjust and be flexible as needed,” Humphreys said.

Staff writers Jim Allen and Kip Hill contributed to this report.

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