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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Bellingham coffee shops struggle with COVID-19

With the stay-at-home order coffee businesses have had to adapt to stay open

Interactive map of coffee shops in Whatcom County and their adjusted hours due to COVID-19// Graphic by Kyle Tubbs

By Kyle Tubbs

For Bellingham residents, getting their regular cup of coffee has become increasingly difficult.

Cafes and coffee shops have closed their doors after Gov. Jay Inslee issued the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order on March 25. 

While some locations have moved to drive-through only, other locations like Starbucks and Woods Coffee have completely closed multiple locations. Even locations that remain open have not been spared the effects of the stay-at-home order.

“These are tough times and we are just trying to make ends meet and keep as many people employed as possible,” Wes Herman, CEO of Woods Coffee, said.

Woods temporarily closed its downtown Bellingham locations and two locations in Bellevue.

“We are down to one to three people per location where normally we would have six to 10. We are seeing a dramatically lower volume of business,” Herman said. 

Woods laid off workers and has more employees wanting work than the company has hours available as of April 24. 

“It’s hard to put a number to this as we have laid people off and brought people back based on an ever-changing market,” Herman said.

Although some Starbucks locations have closed or been reduced to drive-through only, the Fred Meyer and Safeway Starbucks kiosks remain open and run regular hours. 

“We have been oscillating between very quiet days and extremely busy days,” said Maggie Thunselle, a Starbucks barista at the Sunset Drive Safeway. “I think since quarantine started, I have seen both the day with the least customers I’ve ever seen and the day with the most customers I’ve ever seen.” 

Sehome Starbucks in Bellingham, Washington temporarily closed along with multiple other Starbucks late last month. This came after Governor Jay Inslee issued the “Stay home, stay healthy” order on March 25, 2020. // Photo by Kyle Tubbs

A visit to the Sunset Drive safeway on April 24, found the store had a high volume of customers but the consistency of this foot traffic was irregular. 

Eiley Turberville, stand manager at Cruisin Coffee in Ferndale, said the stay-at-home order had the opposite effect on the coffee stand than she predicted. 

“More people are tired of sitting at home doing nothing and decide that coffee is the perfect stop,” Turberville said. “Although our hours of when we gain the most attraction are shifted into later in the afternoon, we are making more in sales than before the COVID-19 outbreak.” 

While other businesses are struggling with inconsistent rushes and slow periods, some have received lower customer traffic overall. Although stands like Cruisin Coffee in Ferndale have had higher traffic, some of their employees are having to make the choice whether or not to work during these busy times. 

Turberville said employees at Cruisin Coffee have been allowed to take unpaid time off as long as needed during the stay-at-home order. This has left stands understaffed with a large customer flow.

“The most difficult problems occurring within the workplace are understaffing and overworking,” Turberville said. Employees can take voluntary time off and not receive any repercussions for not wanting to come into work during this time, but those who continue working have to pick up the shifts from those who opted out. “Many employees are working more than their share 40  hours a week, and ultimately burn out after this.”

On top of the difficulties dealing with either too many customers or too little, there is the concern of personal safety. 

There have been 4.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 307,395 deaths worldwide, according to May 17 data from the World Health Organization. Washington state has 18,288 confirmed cases. Whatcom County has 347 confirmed cases and 35 deaths, according to May 17 data from the Washington State Department of Health.

Woods Coffee, Cruisin Coffee and Starbucks have all made regular glove use and sanitizing a priority and are trying to facilitate interactions between customers and employees as safely as possible. Woods Coffee and Starbucks have been issuing and allowing masks to whoever wants them. 

“I am always thinking about how to stay safe,” Thunselle said. Constant hand washing before and after any task or interaction has become the new normal for Thunselle. “I am young and healthy but I do not want to risk giving the virus to anyone I am close with.” 

Tuberville said hearing concerns from her employees, who she thinks of as family, about health safety and overworking has been the biggest stressor during this time.  

“I’m excited for this to be over,” Turberville said.“For my safety, but mostly my workers.”


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