Small businesses find ways to survive COVID-19 shutdowns

Federal, state and local resources available to help business owners

Small business owners throughout Camas-Washougal are grappling with statewide social distancing rules meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 that have shut down schools, non-essential businesses and most public spaces. 

Some have altered the way they run their business. 

Many local restaurants are still serving meals through pickup or delivery service (see related article on Washougal restaurants in this week’s Post-Record and at the Post-Record online). And several fitness and yoga studios — including Body Bliss, Camas Yoga & Co., Dance Evolution Zumba, Spears Strong and Jazzercise Camas — and using online platforms like Zoom to bring classes directly into people’s living rooms.

A few, especially those who are still able to run their businesses online or remotely, have rallied to help others in need. 

Joe Orlando, co-owner of The Electrical Panel, a co-working space in downtown Camas, is using his skills to create a virtual “triage center” to help other downtown Camas business owners identify the pandemic’s impact on their business and to help assess their financial risks in the future.  

Papermaker Pride, a downtown Camas business that designs and sells Camas-themed apparel, recently launched the #CamasUnites campaign to raise money for the Camas School District’s Backpack Program and Family-Community Resource Center — both of which help low- and no-income Camas families. 

Our goal is to unite the city of Camas in a time of great turmoil and need. With over 1,000 students in our community who rely on our school breakfast and lunch program, the closing of Camas School District puts tremendous pressure on all of our families to provide for our children,” wrote Papermaker Pride co-owner Karen Gibson in an email to Carrie Schulstad, executive director of the Downtown Camas Association (DCA), which has been promoting the #CamasUnites campaign. 

Gibson said Papermaker Pride is selling #CamasUnites T-shirts, sweatshirts and custom flags at their online site (papermakerpride.com) with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the Backpack Program and Family Community Resource Center. 

“Through the #CamasUnites Campaign, we hope to support these two organizations in their efforts to serve Camas families,” Gibson said. 

The DCA has been doing its part to provide Camas businesses with an ever-growing list of financial resources that might help business owners weather the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The DCA has contacted all our state and federal legislators on downtown’s behalf and we’re keeping the city in the loop on downtown (information),” Schulstad stated in a recent email to DCA members, adding that the DCA would continue to promote downtown Camas businesses online and through social media channels.

“Small business is the lifeblood of our country and this is affecting everyone, so know that help is coming,” Schulstad added in an email highlighting some of the things she’d learned during a National Main Street webinar on steps the National Federation of Independent Businesses is taking during the crisis. 

Schulstad said other Main Street directors shared what they were doing and urged DCA members to connect regularly with customers and employees during the pandemic despite the shutdowns. 

“Keeping relationships strong can retain employees,” Schulstad stated in her email. “They need emotional support for sure and to know next steps.” 

The DCA director also encouraged small business owners to reach out to their banks, landlords, vendors, suppliers and insurance agents during the shutdown. 

“The banks will be helping to facilitate loans from the government … so it’s good to stay connected and use their expertise,” Schulstad said.

Camas business-valuation expert offers ‘financial triage’ to downtown business owners

When Joe Orlando, co-owner of The Electrical Panel co-working space in Camas, heard the governor had mandated the closure of most non-essential businesses to slow the spread of a deadly new coronavirus, his first thought was, “How can I help?”

“I value businesses for a living and have experience (with) financial analysis statements, so I wanted to help,” Orlando told the Post-Record. 

A few days before the actual shutdown, Orlando proposed an idea to the DCA’s executive director. 

Orlando would offer a free service to downtown Camas business owners to help them find their footing during the crisis. 

He calls the service “virtual business triage.” 

Simply put, I want to create a virtual triage center for Camas businesses. I want to first start with downtown businesses to help them identify the impact this pandemic has had on (their) businesses to date and help assess (their) risk going forward,” Orlando explained. “This exercise should help identify and determine the urgency of (the business’) current financial wounds in seeking relief from government programs … and communicating with landlords and creditors. It will also provide a foundation for assessing (their) long-term risk, the identification of value drivers and the creation of a long-term survival strategy.”

Orlando said he hopes small business owners will take a moment to pause and to think about what they can and cannot control during this crisis. 

“I think there has to be some sort of default you have, to stay calm and develop a plan,” Orlando said. “Step back and take a deep breath. Look at your business. Identify where there are risks and do your best to take advantage of opportunities (through low-interest loans or other forms of government assistance) to make sure you can pay your employees, pay your suppliers … figure out what your action plan is in the short-term while keeping an eye on the long-term.” 

Orlando, who lives in Camas with his family, including twin 15-year-old boys, said he wanted to figure out what skills he had to help others during the pandemic. 

Helping other business owners better understand how to survive the statewide shutdown is Orlando’s way of giving back to his community.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “If I can help even one business stay afloat, it will be worth it.” 

For downtown Camas business owners interested in taking advantage of Orlando’s free “triage” assistance, email Orlando at joseph_m_orlando@outlook.com

Resources available for small business owners

Governor Jay Inslee launched the “Economic Retention, Resilience and Recovery” program on March 18 to help Washougal businesses and workers weather the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide shutdowns.

“These are unprecedented times,” Inslee said when he announced statewide protections for small businesses. “We must do everything we can to support the resiliency of Washington workers and employers.”

The United States Small Business Administration recently approved Inslee’s request to declare a disaster in the state of Washington, which will open low-interest loans to help small business owners cover their overhead costs during the shutdown. 

Congress has approved an additional $7 billion for low-interest disaster loans to assist small businesses. 

And the governor’s Working Washington Fund has made up to $5 million available to small business owners seeking micro-loans to help keep their businesses running and pay their employees. 

Lisa Brown, the state’s director of commerce, stated in a press release that although public health is the state’s No. 1 priority during the pandemic, state leaders were “working quickly at the local, regional and federal level to bring help to businesses hit hard by the economic fallout of this outbreak.”

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we know they are feeling real pain right now,” Brown stated. “These are initial steps. More information and more help is on the way.”

The Washington State Department of Revenue will host a free, live webinar for new and small business owners from 10 to 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 14. Participants will learn about Washington excise taxes, reporting classifications, deductions, sales tax collection, and record-keeping requirements. To sign up for the webinar, email DORWebinar@dor.wa.gov with your name, company name, phone number and email address. For more information about the workshop, call or email Rick Stedman at 360-705-6624 or rickst@dor.wa.gov.

The state has compiled a list of resources for small business owners and workers seeking assistance, available at governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/covid-19-resources/covid-19-resources-businesses-and-workers.

More resources for Washington businesses and workers can be found online at coronavirus.wa.gov/business-workers.

For employers or employees looking for help navigating unemployment assistance, visit esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19.

To learn more about the DCA and downtown Camas businesses, visit downtowncamas.com.

Please review our community guidelines