Washougal business owners will have to work together in order to survive the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19, according to Washougal Business Association (WBA) secretary Chuck Carpenter.
“Everybody is operating in silos now,” he said. “One thing we want to do is bridge the communication gap between the businesses. When I talk to business owners around town, they express the need to work together. Even if they’re competing in the same industry, they still want to find ways to cooperate.”
To that end, the WBA board of directors have scheduled a conference call with the association’s members for Thursday, April 9, to discuss ideas and share information.
“We are looking forward to touching base with other owners and sharing some positivity and spreading some good vibes during these times,” said Ryan Boomhower, owner of 3rd Heart Tattoo, which closed its downtown Washougal parlor on Monday, March 16. “We believe it will be important for all of us to just touch base and be encouraging, yet realistic with each other.”
“I really feel that (people are) teaming together because they don’t want to see their small businesses not reopen,” said Darlynn Taylor, co-owner of Glo Beauty Lounge, which also shut down Monday, March 16. “I was getting so excited (about the fact that) Washougal was really starting to blossom and grow, but now places are closing, and it’s sad. I’ll go down there and it’s a ghost town.”
Some businesses, such as the Washougal School of Music, Ripple Wellness and Anytime Fitness, have found ways to shift their product delivery model to the virtual world. Some are selling gift cards, while others have launched fundraising efforts. And many restaurants are offering take-out and delivery service.
“Some are trying to be creative and forge ahead,” Carpenter said. “We’re trying to get in contact with (WBA) members to ask them what they’re doing that’s outside the box so that we can share with others.”
But times have still been tough. Some local businesses have had to let most of their employees go, while others are reducing their hours. And some have been forced to close, either due to government orders — such as 3rd Heart Tattoo and Glo Beauty Lounge — or lack of business.
“Staying positive is a real challenge,” Carpenter said. “Keeping your chin up is pretty tough these days. The tough part is that when you close the doors, you won’t have a lot of the expenses that you used to have, but you still have to pay rent, utilities and so forth, and many businesses operate on a shoestring budget as it is.
“Many places have already temporarily shut down, and I put the word ‘temporarily’ in quote marks because we don’t know how temporary ‘temporarily’ is. It’s like Dr. Anthony Fauci says — ‘The only timetable is the virus’ timetable, and we don’t know what that is.’ It’s the uncertainty that is the most troublesome.”
Some Washogal businesses “will not survive this,” according to Carpenter.
“Most are trying to cope as best they can, but there’s not much they can do when they depend on people coming into their store,” he said. “Many businesses have yet to realize the long-term effects of what they hope will be a short-term problem, but it may turn into a long-term problem.”
The WBA is asking local residents to order takeout food from restaurants; purchase gift cards; tip delivery drivers; and share information about businesses with friends and family members.
The association has also been regularly sharing information and updates from local businesses on its Facebook page.
“Social media is the best (tool) we have to encourage people to support local businesses. That’s all we’ve been able to do so far,” he said. “Our (roles as WBA board members) are more important than ever, and more frustrating. I wish we could do more.”
Taylor and Boomhower said that they’ve received financial and emotional assistance from their clients and customers during the past several weeks.
“The support we’ve received has been amazing,” Taylor said. “A lot of the clients that we’ve had for a long time become like family, in a way. I get texts from them that say, ‘Hang in there.’ I have a couple of immune disorders, so I’m susceptible to the virus, and people have brought things to my doorstep and shopped for me. They’re also buying the products that I sell in the salon. Our clients are one reason I know that Glo will reopen. They will never want to see the salon that they love close.”
“It has been amazing to have so many people who care and want to help,” Boomhower said. “We did not expect to receive much financial offerings, as we assumed money may be tight for most during these trying times. It has been a blessing to say the least, and we are forever thankful for our incredible clientele.”
Boomhower and his wife, Kayla, are preparing to apply for small-business loans and grants to provide financial support.
“We are keeping updated on new information for small business help on a state and federal level every day. Kayla has really been on top of this, in particular,” Boomhower said. “There are so many resources out there, though, that it can be overwhelming at times, and information is changing day-to-day on these programs. We know the government is trying to get all of its ducks in a row, and we will be ready to apply for help when the process is ready.”
The Boomhowers have also started selling gift certificates, which can be redeemed for tattoo services at a later, safer date.
“We are brainstorming some other fundraising ideas for the future,” Ryan Boomhower said. “We have also thought about selling custom paintings since we will have the time on our hands to create new pieces.
“This has been tough on everyone and will continue to be, but the support from our clientele has helped,” he continued. “We make sure to touch base with the rest of our 3rd Heart family — Travis Hedlund and Dan Attoe — on a weekly basis at minimum. More than anything, being surrounded by our loving children gives us strength. We will get through this.”
Taylor is confident Glo Beauty Lounge will reopen, partially because of the fact that its lease payment for April has been excused by building owner Wes Hickey. Also, Taylor continues to sell products from her shop to collect income that will help to pay for the businesses’ continuing electricity and internet bills.
But she knows that “there’s probably going to be salons that won’t survive this,” and has a plan to help them.
“I do have an open hair station and nail station, so when we reopen, I’m going to offer people in the industry who have had their clientele displaced a station for a reduced rate if they are able to sign, say, a six-month lease,” she said. “They can come in and have a place to work with their clients. Otherwise they might not have a place to go back to. I know that it takes a long time to build your clientele. Having to start over with new people, that can be hard financially.”
Glo Beauty Lounge offers a variety of spa services, including eyebrow microblading, lash extensions, facials, manicures, pedicures, custom spray tanning and Hanna tattoo art.
“Glo is very small; just four of us work there independently, on our own schedules,” Taylor said. “One of the reasons that our clients like it is because there’s not a lot of people there. I do cosmetics and microblading, so I wear scrubs and gloves and a mask anyway. Some of the other states allowed salons to stay open as long as they took precautions. It’s frustrating because we didn’t qualify for unemployment. That changed with the stimulus bill, which I’m applying for, but that takes a lot of time, and in the meantime I don’t have a (source of) income, so it’s been rough.”
Businesses that provide event-based services are also adjusting to their new circumstances dictated by government orders that restrict social gatherings. .
Washougal residents Kathy Dering and Rich Beck, owners of The Paint Roller, a mobile paint party service, were forced to cancel all of their upcoming events.
“We are at a standstill,” Dering said. “Ironically, we had just bought a ton of canvases. I have enough canvases and paint to last me a couple years. We’re stocked with paint and canvases and no one to paint with.”
Dering said she and Beck “miss interacting with the community because we are really involved.”
“I really miss the kids. I love the kids,” Dering said. “They love painting and trying different colors. I miss the adults, too. It’s been tough. I have more time on my hands that I know what to do with. We love doing and miss it terribly.”
Dering said her last party — held at Smead’s Pub on Thursday, March 12 — was a “big success,” with almost 20 participants.
“We love helping new businesses bring in people,” she said. “When we have a paint party, people come from all over. We’ve had people that had never painted before just love it. Kids that maybe have an attention span issue, it’s amazing to see how they get focused and paint.”
Dering said that she would like to find a way to offer parties on a smaller scale.
“Even before all of the social distancing (orders) came up, I thought about offering some kind of kids’ daycare, where I could take four kids at a time and paint with them,” she said. “We’ve got a studio in our backyard, and I think I could let kids in there as long as we could take their temperature first. I think kids would like that — and the parents, because the kids are probably going bonkers.”