Port commissioner hopes to create resource guide for small businesses

John Spencer and volunteers are calling local business owners today, tomorrow to gather questions, ideas for surviving shutdown

A Port of Camas-Washougal commissioner is on a mission to help the area’s small business owners have a “one-stop” resource during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’ve talked to 26, maybe 28 businesses and the thing I’m hearing most is a sense of generalized worry,” Port Commissioner John Spencer told the Post-Record last week. “Business (owners) have specific questions they’re having trouble answering. There is a proliferation of websites, but they all duplicate each other and none go into any depth.” 

To help business owners in Camas and Washougal figure out what help is available during the pandemic, Spencer decided to go old-school. 

“I thought we should go back to the good, old-fashioned phone tree,” he said. 

The plan is to have members of the Camas-Washougal Rotary Club call small business owners throughout the area to gather the owners’ questions, concerns and ideas for surviving what could be a more than two-month closure of businesses’ physical locations. 

After that, Spencer said, he plans to find answers to the owners’ questions and put a resource list together in one place. 

“The goal is to provide whatever immediate information we can and, importantly, collect questions so that I can put together a FAQ that’s targeted toward local needs,” Spencer said. 

Asked how the business owners he’s spoken to are doing during the statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses, which Governor Jay Inslee recently extended to May 4, Spencer said it’s been “hit or miss.”
“A lot of it depends on how a business is set up and their niche in their business sector,” Spencer said. “A traditional gym with just weights and exercise equipment? They’re done. But a gym with group classes? They’re online, but they’re stumbling.” 

The same goes for local hardware and lumber shops, Spencer said. Businesses like Washougal Lumber and Lutz Hardware, which rely on residential customers, have been able to weather the first few weeks of the shutdown by offering services that don’t require people to get close to one another, but businesses like Parr Lumber, which serves commercial contractors, is struggling now that the governor also has shutdown residential and commercial construction projects. 

Some businesses that were doing OK a couple weeks ago, during the first days of the statewide shutdown, are finding that business is starting to taper off as more people find themselves in a state of uncertainty about their financial future or even unemployed. 

Right now, however, it’s important that business owners have a central place to find resources that might be available to them and their employees to help them survive the shutdown. 

That’s why Spencer hopes Rotary members will be able to reach out to every small business in Camas and Washougal this week. 

“I have a baker’s dozen volunteers who will spend several hours (today) and tomorrow calling East County businesses,” Spencer said. 

Once he has the central resource list available, Spencer will share it with the Post-Record and local business owners.

“I’m hearing some good stories, too,” Spencer said. “A lot of people are getting creative, and we have many business owners who know how to survive this.”

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