Coping with COVID: 2 Edmonds businesses say they're struggling, but hopeful
Last updated 11/24/2020 at 11:54am
This was going to be a story about two Edmonds businesses doing the best they can during the stubborn coronavirus pandemic.
It still is.
But a story that last week also offered some glimmer of hope – for one established business and one new one – had to be rewritten with Gov. Jay Inslee's new statewide restrictions announced Nov. 15, to continue through Dec. 14.
Inslee cited the high number of confirmed, positive COVID-19 tests, spiking higher recently than in any time since the pandemic began in March.
On Nov. 16 the Snohomish Health District reported that Edmonds had recorded 850 cases since January, with 627 recoveries. The city's case numbers, however, are exceeded in Bothell, Everett, Lynnwood, Marysville, and Snohomish.
There have been 252 deaths in the county due to COVID, with 34 in Edmonds.
So, in a year that has brought so much pain to families losing loved ones, with many businesses barely hanging on, and with promising vaccines seemingly on the way for 2021 or sooner, both Rogue and barre3 owners say they worry about the future but are soldiering on with the new limits on in-store occupancy, as well as other restrictions.
Of course, these two downtown businesses have lots of company. The last few months have seen the closures of several established retailers and restaurants, including SNAP Fitness, 190 Sunset, Colonial Pantry, Savvy Traveler and, most recently, American Brewing Company (it closes Nov. 21).
Gina Drake can't seem to catch a break. After a year of planning, construction of a studio in the former location of Edmonds Hardware and Paint, and teaching over 200 group fitness classes, she welcomed a grand opening in the space.
But 10 days later after opening the boutique fitness studio, the first of the state's coronavirus restrictions took hold. Indoor gyms were among the casualties. And as a new business, Drake could not take advantage of paycheck protection program loans or CARES funding available from the city of Edmonds.
What to do?
During the first few months of the pandemic, Drake and her team transitioned to live-streaming barre3 classes from their homes using Zoom.
She converted the studio to a more professional live-streaming environment where she and her team of seven instructors taught a daily mix of 30-, 45-, and 60-minute virtual classes. During summer, when the outdoors beckoned, you may have also seen barre3 instructors leading outdoor classes at local Edmonds parks, churches, and even barre3's parking lot above Fifth Avenue South.
Business was anything but normal. But Drake's situation seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough when, in what she called a "hail Mary," she contacted Edmonds' Wilcox Construction, which oversaw the studio's buildout.
Wilcox owns the iconic big red barn in downtown Edmonds, formerly home to Edmonds Lumber & Hardware.
Wilcox owner Matt Lesard agreed to allow Drake to repurpose the barn as a temporary pop-up studio.
"Wilcox has been a great partner," Drake said, who said her rent was minimal. "They did a beautiful job with the buildout of our studio space, and are stepping up now to help support our business while our physical studio is still closed due to COVID. The barn offers a large open space where our team and clients feel safe moving together.
"Community and movement are so important, especially during this time of isolation, and having the opportunity to continue to move with our community is everything. We wouldn't be able to do this without Wilcox and their willingness to get creative with us to make barre3 in the barn happen. We cannot thank them enough for their support."
The 3,500-square-foot space worked perfectly – until Sunday, when Inslee halted all indoor gym activities. That meant barre3's temporary home had to shut down.
"I'm frustrated because we just got the barn up and running," she said, adding that participants had to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and confirm that they were healthy. "There has been a lot of excitement around it, and now we are going to have to pivot again."
The bigger issue, she said, concerns her business model.
"It's not supported by five-person classes, which is one reason we didn't open the physical studio when that was an option. We are group fitness. Our studio and business model are built based off of a 26-class capacity. The cost to continue with in-person outdoor classes limited to five exceeds the revenue we would generate from that class."
Drake said she wants more than anything to continue moving safely together in the barn or another outdoor space, but the current restrictions don't support it from a financial standpoint.
"This is a hard time for small business and boutique fitness. We are committed to continuing to bring our amazing barre3 class to our clients daily."
Starting Tuesday, Nov. 17, barre3 returned to a 100% livestream operation.
"We have an amazing professional livestream set-up in our studio where clients can still take class together safely from their own homes," Drake said. " We also record all classes and email out to those interested who aren't able to join us during the live time so that they can still get their workout in at their convenience.
"This is going to be our next pivot. It is similar to where we were in March, but we have invested significantly in the technology and setup to provide a professional and reliable class experience for our clients."
Drake said she and her employees, who she is still paying, are trying to stay positive through the pandemic and all of 2020.
"People need movement, people need community, and this is a way we can continue to provide that safely," she said. "And once it's safe for us to be back in the studio, or we feel like my clients feel comfortable returning, we'll reopen."
It's not that Kimberly Koenig didn't appreciate the cute white home on Main Street where she opened Rogue, a women's clothing boutique, in May 2014.
"The house is really quaint," she said of the structure just east of The Mar-Ket. "But for a retail store, I didn't have windows for display, and had that big walk off the sidewalk that people had to commit to. You have to make a decision to walk up those steps and open that door. It was a barrier for entry for some."
When longtime business Savvy Traveler closed its doors around the corner on Fifth Avenue South in August, Koenig saw an opportunity she couldn't ignore, especially during a pandemic when walk-in traffic can boost bottom lines.
Koenig, president of the Edmonds Downtown Alliance (ED!), said she'd heard anecdotally from owners of similar stores in old houses, much like her former one, had seen 50% increases in revenue with a move to an on-street storefront. Especially in this time of COVID, where retail receipts are significantly down for Koenig and many other businesses, the move seemed a no-brainer.
It still is, as Koenig said she's seen an increase in customers in a space that is about three times larger than the one on Main Street.
Today, however, Rogue is only allowed 25% capacity.
"We are currently at 30% in Phase 2 (max of 17 in the store), so that isn't dramatically different, but the part I am concerned about is shopper behavior," Koenig said. "I'm anticipating that people will be going out less, which will impact our small businesses. I know many owners are very nervous and stressed across the state.
"This was the chance – the holidays – for us all to make a little headway. I expect owners will be working on even more unique ways for people to shop remotely or privately. I just hope we can all find an untapped well of energy, hope, and ingenuity because, frankly, we're all exhausted trying to ride out this storm."
Customers who enter Rogue will, of course, have to follow all guidelines, which should be a mantra at this point: masks, sanitizer, social distancing.
"Customers can try on clothes, but then we have to quarantine the clothes," Koenig said. "You can quarantine them for 24 hours, or you can steam them. I think the research is showing that it's more airborne droplets versus touching things, but we're still continuing those protocols."
Koenig says her store is open to all.
"We aim to have a little more fashion-forward feel to clothing; we see what the current trends are. But my core audience is probably that woman who's 35 to 45, roughly."
Koenig said she gathers sartorial ideas from large trade shows like you might find in Las Vegas and New York, where vendors show their latest brands and trends.
"Part of the reason I opened my store is I really, really love clothing and fashion," she said, not unexpectedly. She worked in sales and advertising before opening Rogue.
"And so I spend a lot of personal time finding new brands. That's part of the hunt that I really like – searching out those unique brands that not everybody carries."
Koenig said she keeps her prices reasonable and at a moderate price point.
"That's my whole goal, because I want to bring in quality goods, but I also want people to be able to visit more than once a year. So you're able to visit more than just once in a while."
How has COVID affected fashion?
"It's completely changed what brands are doing well," Koenig said. "People have gone to a lot of leisure, where before (stores) that had more office-appropriate or party dresses are now adding more casual pieces to their lines.
"And the '90 still keeps showing up; I've already lived through that, right? But, you know, there's still floral, and we're seeing a lot of turtlenecks and mock-neck stuff. Skinny jeans are kind of falling back a little bit. So we have straight-leg and boot-cut. Everything's cyclical; nothing's really new."
So true. And adjusting to the changing times is the new normal.