By Sela Marino
Qhugh Newmark and his wife Alexis, owners of 1-Up Lounge, received the news that all nonessential businesses were to temporarily close for the foreseeable future while having dinner with friends.
“We had two couples over for dinner when we received the news,” Qhugh Newmark said. “It felt like the whole world was being pulled out from under us.”
Businesses had 48 hours before the order went into effect.
Corey Silversmith, co-owner of Makeworth Market, decided to use that time to inform employees about what they could do to help themselves.
“We pulled together and had a team meeting the next day instead of opening,” Silversmith said.
Silversmith said he helped employees find options and resources, like how to file for unemployment, to get through this time.
Now that businesses are unable to interact with their customers face-to-face as they did before, they’ve had to rethink how they operate in order to stay afloat during this time.
Silversmith mentioned that he still pays for the building that Makeworth Market is in, even though it’s closed.
The Comics Place decided to temporarily close before the shelter-in-place order was made. “We felt, as one of the older businesses downtown, it was our obligation to set an example for other businesses that reflected the seriousness of the current situation,” co-owner, Jeff Figley said.
Many cafes and bookstores have moved to online orders through their websites or social media.
Newmark and his wife Alexis redid their website, and are now selling food and spirits to-go. All alcoholic drinks leave in a sealed bottle.
“We focused on cocktails and experiences,” Newmark said. “We’re an entirely different business altogether. My wife and I are doing 100% of the business now.”
Newmark said his wife built a new website and new delivery system.
“We’re in do or die mode now,” Newmark said. “We had to lay off all of our employees. We're doing everything we can to keep the lights on until our employees can come back.”
Newmark said that the community has been amazing so far, in terms of wanting to help and buying his products online.
As of now, places such as Makeworth, are selling coffee through their Instagram and website.
Growing Makework Market’s online presence was the next priority before COVID-19, Silversmith said
“We haven’t been super pushy with getting customer support,” Silversmith said. “We went a little bit in the other direction, giving away free stuff.”
Silversmith said people have been as encouraging as they can. Customers have been asking how they’re able to help via direct message or email.
Makeworth Market regularly held events at their venue, such as weddings and concerts.
“We’ll have to pivot to be more than coffee and food, events have become a really big part of who we are,” Silversmith said. “I’m not sure how long it’ll be before people will go back to feeling safe.”
Silversmith said he hopes to continue and wouldn’t change the core of what Makeworth Market is, but the way people and guests are served.
Alexarc Mastema and Teri Bryant, owners of Maniac Roasting, are still open for business.
Coffee roasting and production are explicitly mentioned as exempt and essential, Mastema said.
“Customers are able to support us,” Mastema said. “We do local delivery free, for the time being, that may change soon. As the world supply chain starts to struggle, some orders might have substitutions if the blend or origin isn't available. Be ready to expect a week or more wait time for delivery.”
Mastema had to lay off employees in order for them to collect unemployment.
“I knew I wouldn't have sufficient money coming in to provide them the hours they deserve,” Mastema said.
Traditionally, they relied on wholesale to restaurants, coffee shops and other food-based outlets, Mastema said. With those mostly closed, Maniac Roasting has lost a large majority of their sales and income.
“In the long-long ago before this new-normal, we did about 15 to 20 home deliveries a week,” Mastema said. “This past week we did well over 300 bags for home deliveries. That change in volume is why I mentioned the delay and uncertainty in delivery time. We have turned 180 degrees and now rely on home sales and delivery to keep the lights on and the doors open. Well, the doors are open but I'd ask you to stay outside.”
Maniac Roasting is developing new packaging volumes to make production, bagging and delivery more nimble and adept.
“My two top equal hopes are that people will be able to get their jobs back and that, by that point, there has been some kind of rent, mortgage, debt forgiveness put into action to protect them from losing housing or income,” Mastame said. “Beyond that, I hope that the U.S. as a whole realizes that every human on Earth is in the same boat and perhaps a new global kindness develops or at least greater empathy.”
Figley said that it took a day or so to get The Comics Place’s website up and running for orders.
“It's something we'd wanted to do for quite some time, and fortunately Django (Figley’s business partner and co-owner) is great with computers,” Figley said. “All in all, we closed the store on a Wednesday, and I think we were out doing deliveries on Thursday after working all day.”
Because they had closed before the shelter-in-place order, they were able to be in the store doing curbside pick-up for two days before switching to just delivery, Figley said.
“I get messages often from different folks asking what they can do to be the best help,” Figley said.
Figley also said that the Compics Place is incredibly fortunate that our customers care enough about us to be willing to spend their money at the store during such an uncertain financial time.
“We haven't yet figured out how we'll be able to pay for the new product we'll have to acquire to be able to sell once the store reopens and comics start printing again,” Figley said.
He said that due to the pandemic, new comics have stopped being printed for the first time in 80 years.
“I'm a pretty optimistic person, so I'm sure we'll find a way,” Figley said. “I can't wait to see all of our customers again. They all become friends and Django and I both miss them dearly.”
Figley said they’ll have to think of some rules for when people are allowed to be back in the store.
“Things along the lines of: How many people are allowed in the store at a time? What will our hours be?” Figley said. “How do we encourage people to come in but not in quantities that will be dangerous regarding a flare-up of COVID-19?”
Customers have been incredible, but they’re far from out of the woods just yet, Figley said.
“I believe in us, I believe in comics, and I believe in the Bellingham community's support, which they've already shown a great deal of,” Figley said.
Makeworth Market’s motto is “We belong together.” Silversmith said, “[This ideal] is hard when people don’t feel safe being together,...Interaction is important and healthy. We want to support our guests and people who have spent time here and offer them value.”