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She’s had a year like no other Owner of Moscow Alehouse shares her story of car crash and running a business during pandemic

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 27, 2020

By Garrett Cabeza Moscow-Pullman Daily News

A car crash almost claimed her life and the COVID-19 pandemic threatened her business.

The past year has not been short of challenges for Moscow Alehouse owner Wendy Smiley-Johnson, but she said the tough times have made her thankful for the little and big things in life.

“I don’t take anything for granted,” she said.

Smiley-Johnson, 53, of Troy, Idaho, was ejected from her 2019 Jeep Renegade during a rollover crash Dec. 21 a mile east of Troy on State Highway 8. She said her body was thrown about 30 feet. Smiley-Johnson admitted she was driving too fast, distracted and that she misjudged a corner. The weather played a factor, too, she said.

She said she suffered several broken ribs and breaks in her back, a punctured lung and she lost function in her arms and hands. She was taken to Gritman Medical Center in Moscow, then St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston and finally airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Doctors told her she would be at the Seattle hospital for two to four months. But after neck and back surgeries and 8- to 9-hour days of physical therapy, she was back home in Troy in about six weeks.

“Most people honestly don’t even survive, let alone make the recovery that I have,” Smiley-Johnson said.

She regained function in her arms and hands and said she is 99 percent healthy. She said she has limited range of motion in her neck but expects that to improve. If she is on her feet too long or bent over working too long, her neck and back will ache. She said she will be done with physical therapy around the one-year anniversary of her crash.

Smiley-Johnson said she credited her family, one of the top three neurosurgeons in the world and her hard work in physical therapy for her quick recovery.

Without the ability to pick up items, feed herself or do other everyday activities, she said physical therapy was intense.

“If you’re telling me that my healing and how far I’m going to heal has to do with how hard I’m working, then if you say 10 reps I’m going 20,” Smiley-Johnson said. “I bulldozed through that thing.”

She said the car crash taught her to “stop and smell the roses.”

“I think in life sometimes I was very busy,” Smiley-Johnson said. “I was taking on a lot of things. I wasn’t very good about asking for help. I overloaded myself and that’s kind of for me – that’s what put me in that position that day. And so having gone through something like that, I took a step back and everything in my life changed.”

She joked that she is trying to be a sloth, but she is not succeeding.

“My husband laughs because he says if I’m a sloth, then my sloth has a spirit animal of a cheetah,” Smiley-Johnson said.

She said the crash made her grateful for small things, like walking her dogs and feeding herself, and she takes more time to do things, like watering her plants.

She said even her signature changed. It was a quick doctor-like scribble for the countless papers she signs as a business owner, but now her signature is legible.

While her recovery was going smoothly, the pandemic hit shortly after she returned home from Seattle. Restaurants were ordered to shut down dine-in services in March because of COVID-19 and the stay-home order was lifted in May.

Smiley-Johnson said she closed Moscow Alehouse for a month because to-go orders were not doing the job. She said her business survives the slow months of December and January because of the busy months of April and May. But reduced services during the shutdown scared her.

She said her brother ran the restaurant for her while she was recovering.

“He was a big instrument in helping us get forward through COVID,” Smiley-Johnson said.

She said business has picked up and she is hopeful to get back to near-normal next year.

“I’ve had a good year despite the pandemic,” Smiley-Johnson said. “I have felt closer to my community, to my (employees) and I don’t even know if that was possible. I survived something people don’t survive.”

One positive is Smiley-Johnson recently bought the property on which Moscow Alehouse sits. She started as a server at the business in 2006 and continued serving when she was promoted to manager in 2008. She has owned the business since 2013.

Like most businesses, Moscow Alehouse has taken basic COVID-19 precautions.

Smiley-Johnson said she recently took two unique safety measures, installing glass-partition walls between each dining booth and three air filters throughout the restaurant. She said a fourth air filter is on its way.

Each filter is effective for about 1,600 square feet – about the size of the business – so she said she really only needs one.

“This wasn’t a cheap venture for me, but in the long run, I want this to be a very safe place,” Smiley-Johnson said. “I want people to walk in and go, ‘Wow, these people care and it’s safe.’ ”

She said she hopes the partition walls and air filters inspire other business owners to install the same measures in their establishments.

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