Above, a few examples of how local businesses and nonprofits are presenting their products and situations on Instagram.
All of us are navigating a new reality: Concerns about the health of relatives and friends. Lack of social contact. Trying to work with kids at home. Too many online meetings. Remembering to stand or walk 6 feet apart, if we manage to get out of the house at all.
Small business owners have these concerns too, but for many of them, there’s another very immediate problem: Many have been forced to close or scale back dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rent is coming due in a few days.
During a March 26 video chat sponsored by the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association, worries about how to make the rent was the main concern of those business owners on the call. Many establishments are closed altogether to customers during the stay-at-home order issued March 23 by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to stop the spread of COVID-19. Many restaurants and bars, meanwhile, have moved to take out and delivery services to ensure an income stream.
On the call, Edmonds Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Urban urged business owners to contact their landlords immediately to see if arrangements can be made for temporary rent reductions or deferred rent payments to help them survive. The goal, Urban said, is to try to work with landlords before tenants get to the point of eviction.
While the Edmonds City Council on March 24 did pass a 60-day moratorium on both business and residential evictions, it’s better to make the effort to avoid eviction altogether by working with the landlord first to see if rent arrangements can be made, Urban added.
Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson on March 27 posted an open letter to commercial property owners, asking them to work with business tenants and “consider delaying rent payments or spreading payments out over a longer period of time.”
Some of the owners on the March 26 call did report that landlords have been understanding — in one case a business tenant received a discount on April rent without asking for it. Others, however, were less optimistic that such discounts would be forthcoming.
Many businesses are working to adapt their services to the current social distancing restrictions required by the governor’s order, and they shared those ideas with each other on the recent video call.
Pam Stuller of Walnut Street Coffee — which is temporarily closed to customers — said she is focused on building her online store, including sales of beans and equipment. As a result, she said, she has enough income “at least this month” to cover her rent.
“We all have to be creative,” Stuller said. ” If there isn’t going to be some public sector resource for us, I’m just encouraging everybody to be creative and scrappy and obviously negotiate with your landlord because these are such unusual times.”
Kimberly Koenig of women’s clothing store Rogue, said she has also moved her clothing sales online. As an example of how customers are adapting, Koenig arranged a one-hour virtual shopping session with six women, who were set to view her inventory in the comfort of their homes.
The same is true for Beth Sanger of Ombu Salon, which offers salon products through her online store, and for Andy Cline of Cline Jewelers, who is also featuring much of his jewelry online.
Stuller said the response of Edmonds merchants to the governor’s order demonstrates their commitment to being “responsible Edmonds — all businesses doing the right thing. We’re trying to serve the consumer base in the safest way possible,” she said.
Businesses are also responding to the crisis by looking for ways to give back to the community. For example, Feed Me Hospitality introduced the Kids Eat Free program at its four restaurants in Edmonds (Salt & Iron, Bar Dojo, Mar•ket, and San Kai), plus a Cater4TheKids initiative through Shooby Doo Catering, that benefits local programs feeding kids in need during COVID-19 school closures. Feed Me recently launched a program aimed at providing food for local hospital employees who are working long hours during the pandemic. Chef Dane Catering has also been delivering food to hospital employees.
There are two current ways the community can help businesses during this tenuous time. First, the Visit Edmonds website, in the past used to promote tourism, has been repurposed — thanks to a joint effort between the City of Edmonds and the Edmonds Downtown Alliance. It now offers a directory of grab and go and delivery items from restaurants, plus links to online shopping and gift card sales. Second, the Edmonds Chamber Foundation is accepting donations for rent assistance for those businesses who need it. The chamber is also providing — through its WISH Fund — small grants to local businesses seeking professional services that can help them survive economic challenges presented by COVID-19.
— By Teresa Wippel