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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

How local businesses are adjusting to closures caused by COVID-19

By Joshua McKinney

Upon the announcement that businesses will cease dine-in operations starting March 17, local businesses are adjusting for long closures.  

Restaurants and bars will only be allowed to stay open for take-out and delivery until March 31, when the situation will be reevaluated, according to Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee. Gatherings of 50 or more people are banned, forcing businesses to close their doors, Inslee said.  Pharmacies and grocery stores are unaffected by this mandate and will remain open, according to Inslee’s press release.

Many local restaurants, including Boundary Bay Brewery, Skylark’s Hidden Cafe and Thousand Acres Cider Company, have responded by switching to curbside take-out and delivery.  

Businesses are going online and working with delivery services like VikingFood to make the transition easier.

According to some local community members, there has been little foot traffic downtown and a decline in business for eateries.  A security guard at Bank of America said he had seen 10-15 people in one morning, when he normally loses count.  

A counter staff worker at Starbucks said they’d had a dozen customers when they usually have at least a couple hundred. 

Jenny Hagemann, co-owner of Thousand Acres Cider Company, was cleaning the empty tap room at midday and said the cidery will have take-out hours in the afternoon, adding that she’s worried.

An employee at Mallard Ice Cream said he expected to be paid through the end of the week, but was worried about the future.

Bellingham Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a local martial arts studio, closed its doors preemptively March 12 in response to the rising risk of spreading COVID-19, Bellingham BJJ co-owner Jeff Shaw said. [It is the Front’s policy to disclose potential conflicts of interest. Shaw is the spouse of the Western Front’s faculty adviser, who did not participate in assigning, reviewing or providing sources for this story.]

The health and safety of their members was the most important factor in making their decision when closing doors, Shaw said.

He cited the need for preemptive action and said the pain of closing in the short term was worth it to prevent greater consequences.  

“This is gonna hit every small business pretty hard,” Shaw said, with an emphasis that the closures will be the hardest on the service industry.

For its part, Bellingham BJJ’s staff is doing what it can to support their community.  They are holding daily online instructional courses on YouTube for people self-quarantined at home and offered a $25 credit to members.  In addition, they are continuing to pay their employees for the classes they would have taught for as long as possible. Shaw said that he is inspired to see the community come together at this time and take preemptive action to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Skylark’s Hidden Cafe, a restaurant and bar located in Fairhaven, has closed dine-in operations and is only offering take-out and delivery, Skylark employee Brad Haggen said.  

Like many local businesses, Skylark’s has implemented curbside pickup to minimize person-to-person interaction.  With in-house dining closed, Skylark’s has been forced to downsize the hours that its staff can work, including less staff overall.  Haggen hopes that the government can resolve this issue quickly.  

He also expressed his concern that closures may go on longer than the stated March 31 end date, and that two weeks isn’t a lot of time to halt the spread of the virus.  

The closures come at an unfortunate time for Skylark’s and other restaurants.  The first official day of restaurant closures, Tuesday, March 17, was also Saint Patrick’s Day, a day of increased patronage for local restaurants and bars.  

Local businesses are doing whatever they can to keep business alive during these unfamiliar times. Businesses like Bellingham BJJ and Skylark’s Cafe are taking the health and safety of the public as their number one priority, according to workers Jeff Shaw and Brad Haggen.  However, Haggen noted that there is a concern around the uncertainty of the length of the closures.

Employees who have recently found themselves temporarily or permanently out of a job are encouraged by the Washington State Employment Security Department to apply for unemployment benefits here, where they will be reviewed on a case by case basis.

Follow The Western Front on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates. Our full coverage of how the novel coronavirus is affecting Whatcom County is here.

If you’re interested in contributing to the Front’s reporting during this crisis, you are invited to participate in our open newsroom project, where experienced reporters and editors will work alongside the community to gather and verify information that leads Whatcom County toward shared solutions. To participate, please fill out this form.

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