Over the years, Hollywood has portrayed what the world would look like during a pandemic on both the small and large screen. Were any of us however, able to imagine the true, everyday realities and impact a global virus would have on individuals, communities and businesses? Over the coming month, we will be shining a light on those realities here on the Central Oregon Coast.
This week, we’ve spoken with four locally owned small businesses in different trades to discover how these early days are shaping not only the coming year, but also potentially their future here in our town. While we’re all aware of the spread of COVID-19 across the world, you might be as surprised as we are at some of the stories and challenges unique to our small coastal area.
We began by visiting an essential industry, your local Kenny’s IGA, to see what has changed for them and their shoppers. Andy Morgan, who oversees the family business, took early measures to ensure the safety of his employees and customers by implementing a unique “pod” system, in which his staff is split into two groups per store, working five days on and then five days off.
“I had an ah-ha moment, and thought, we don’t want to be on the wrong side of this,” Morgan said as he explained his strategy. By following the pod system he’s able to ensure the employees only interact with the same co-workers they share their shift with; and he hopes that the five days off will allow time for any potential symptoms to appear before they resume work, as well as giving them a much-needed respite for their continued mental health.
Meanwhile, other small businesses in town have had to completely shutter their physical locations and get creative to continue to make sales. We spoke with Danielle Hutchinson of Lark & Meadow and Bryan Nichols, owner of ZuhG Life Surf Shop and Skate Shop, both of whom have had to quickly move their entire operation online in an effort to bring in enough money to pay the overhead that continues to accumulate, even while the doors are locked. Both owners plan to do everything they can to ensure they are able to reopen their brick-and-mortar storefronts once the CDC has lifted social distancing recommendations.
“[Every] building owner and rental terms are drastically different,” Hutchinson said, “but I will say, imagine your household expenses times three. I can tell you it’s not possible to be in the black at this time — at least for us.” This holds true for small business throughout the coastal area.
Nichols said his businesses can only survive so long without being awarded any small business grants or subsidies.
“If we were just relying on the money that is coming [in via online orders,] and the expenses we still have…” he paused for several seconds, before continuing in a much more somber voice, “three or four months would be pushing it.”
That bleak outlook is being felt even in businesses who are still allowed to run limited services from their physical locations, such as Black Squid Beer House. Even with being able to do takeout and delivery, they are feeling the bite when it comes to the loss of income their regular events, such as trivia nights, live music and art typically generate. They now have limited hours for local customers to grab what they need to go, but according to owners Sara and Andy Hill, if the stay-at-home orders are in effect for even six months, the services they currently provide will not be able to sustain their business.
Despite the uncertainty that every small business owner is feeling, we have found many positive stories as well. Every location we’ve visited has taken this unplanned downtime to make changes to their business model that will expand their services in the future, when a feeling of normalcy returns. Whether it’s getting their entire inventory online, offering window decals to promote those online stores, becoming more social media savvy or starting curbside pickup, businesses have had to get creative. After they reopen their doors, these businesses will see the benefits from establishing their websites in continued online sales. This will allow them to reach a larger audience outside our local region. Nichols, who is a musician as well as the owner of ZuhG Life Surf Shop has organized “ZuhGfest,” a worldwide live streaming event with musicians from around the globe, happening April 10 to 12. Many repairs and maintenance projects previously on the back burner have now begun to take shape as owners spring clean their storefronts and do small repair work in the absence of in-person customers.
Every owner we spoke to has felt the community rally behind them in some way, as the effects of a world pandemic draws our focus back to the well-being of the people who live and work next door to us in our own neighborhoods. And it’s not just the customers that are supporting our small-town shops. As the owner of Lark & Meadow said, “we have the loveliest landlords in Lincoln City, and they want our community to thrive even though they have bills to pay as well.” It’s this feeling of making sure we are all taken care of that brings hope to the people who are running the vital businesses that bring tourists to our area and add character to our towns. So, as we protect our fellow citizens by staying home and keeping our distance, remember that your favorite shop is still working behind the scenes to do everything it can to be there when we’re all safe again.
When push comes to shove, and you’re only allowed to leave your house for essentials, there is a redefinition of home life and what people feel are necessary purchases. We asked the workers at Kenny’s IGA “What item shortage most surprised you besides the sudden run on toilet paper?” With a chuckle of disbelief, each one of them responded with, “Yeast.”
In addition to being professional photographers, Krista Melone and Rachel Baird are co-owners of Tah•Lume Curiosities & Gifts, which offers online commerce at www.tahlume.com.