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Maybe Better Life Natural Foods owner Delana Carr said it best, “We’re just hanging on and waiting for a better day.”

Commerce in America used to be defined by brick and mortar small business, but the pandemic is changing all of that. The White House and Congress made saving small businesses a defining moment, passing a second stimulus late last month.

But economists project that more than 100,000 small businesses have shut permanently since the pandemic escalated in March, according to a study by researchers at the University of Illinois, Harvard Business School, Harvard University and the University of Chicago.

The latest data suggests at least 2 percent of small businesses are gone, according to a survey conducted May 9 to 11. But here in Ellensburg, small business owners are hanging on.

They have moved into the third quarter without Jazz in the Valley income or various summertime activities. The real test will be business without the money generated by the 97th Ellensburg Rodeo or back-to-school.

“We’re not even small business,” Brick Road Books co-owner Daniel Williams said. “Small business is defined by 10 employees and we have four. Our walk-in numbers have been steady. But it’s a spooky time.”

Hanging on seems to be the catch phrase around town during a time when analysts say it’s only the beginning of the worst wave of small-business bankruptcies and closures since the Great Depression.

“We’ve mostly had walk-ins only right now. We’ve been encouraging people to call ahead, so we can get you in a little quicker,” CW Barber Shop owner Kelsey Schmidt said. “Our customer visits are down with (Central Washington University) being completely closed down this summer. We’re not seeing as many as we’re used to.

“We’re doing more promotions to prepare for not having the rodeo, which will definitely affect our business.”

Schmidt said back-to-school haircuts and other loss of income is putting a strain on the money flow. It is not possible for small businesses to survive with no income coming in for weeks, she said, followed by reopening at half capacity with Phase 3 safety changes.

RETAIL ADJUSTMENTS

The retail clothing store owners on Pearl Street say they have adjusted since reopening in June. Both Evolve Clothing & Jewelry owner Hildi Youngblood and Claim Clothing owner Megan West say business owners on Pearl Street are helping each other out during challenging times.

“There is a lot of adversity, but it’s a good time to be alive, actually. We’re all showing up for each other,” Youngblood said. “I think all of us (on Pearl Street) are doing the best we can and helping each other when we can.

“We received a PPP loan and a grant through the CARE Act that helps immensely. We’re hanging on and we’re really glad to be open again after being closed for so long. We really appreciate the support from the community.”

Claim Clothing rearranged its floor a little bit. West said the biggest challenge is reconnecting with vendors.

“When we first opened back up, our vendors were operating one day a week,” she said. “So, there were weeks we were waiting for inventory to catch up. We have a wide variety of clientele and age groups that we accommodate.

“We’re really starting to even out. We have a better idea of what the economy is going to look like. We’re a small town and we tend to help each other out as much as we can.”

Recycle Bicycle Shop store manager Colton Beutel said he is facing greater demand than supply, that keeping up with the restock has been difficult.

“It’s a good kind of crazy,” he said. “It’s been different with the many hurdles we’ve had to jump through. We’ve sold through 50 percent of our stock. So, getting parts, bikes and replacement stuff is a challenge.

“Demand has caught the industry by surprise. We’ve never had to deal with this kind of demand. Every day is a new day and it could turn, but so far we’ve been staying busy and we’ve been selling bikes to people keeping their social distance by going out for a ride.”

The business carnage has been even higher in the restaurant industry, where 3 percent of restaurant owners have gone out of business, according to the National Restaurant Association.

IMPACT OF UNIVERSITY

Better Life Natural Foods did close in March by order of the governor’s office, but came back with much of its business to curbside service. It is not a restaurant, but a retailer abiding by the pandemic safety regulations.

“It’s been a roller coaster in terms of creating safety for our customers because a lot of them are in the high-risk demographic,” said Carr, who has a staff of five. “We’re doing all the sanitizing, the plexi-glass, we have masks available if they don’t have their own masks. We even have one-way aisles.

“For us, the rodeo doesn’t really create a lot of business, so that’s not problem. I would say the biggest challenge for us is not having the university business.”

The Daily Bread & Mercantile has three tables and 13 chairs available to dine-in customers, but owner Mark Wise said he is seeing a lot of take-out orders.

“Business is about the same. We were never closed so we were busy with the take-out, then we stared doing the dine-in,” he said. “People still seem to prefer take-out. The new normal is about changing things to keep people safe.

“We’ve been doing a take-and-bake meal. Our sandwiches have remained a popular item. We’re pretty much offering the same menu as before.”

Despite the disturbing statistics and the stress on small businesses across the country, Ellensburg commerce is holding on and working under the new normal guidelines of Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan.

The roller coaster ride that is small business during the pandemic is one of adjusting to the new normal and hanging on for the ride as American moves forward.

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