How COVID-19 is Affecting Local Businesses

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Shawn's Cafe and Bakery is open Tuesday through Saturday. Photo by Alex Levin

The COVID-19 outbreak has taken its toll on Mercer Island’s local businesses.

Jay Inslee’s closure of all non-essential businesses has left book stores, coffee shops, gyms and other important businesses vying for financial relief and their employees craving any form of human interaction.

“[The outbreak] has been financially and emotionally devastating,” Mercer Island Athletic Club owner Ginny Pietila said. “Our team of trainers and instructors suddenly find themselves without each other’s daily support and without the regular interaction with their clients.”

With in-store activities no longer prohibited, the pandemic has forced most businesses, including the MI Athletic Club, to rely on various virtual alternatives to stay afloat.

“As with most fitness businesses right now, we quickly pivoted to online workouts,” Pietila said. “Everyone on our team is also checking in with their clients periodically to stay engaged and offer help if needed.”

Even with online business generating reasonable profits, certain face-to-face aspects of business are difficult to replace. For Island Books owner Laurie Raisys, online sales cannot adequately deliver the satisfaction gained from customer interactions.

“We’re not an online business, we’re in the business of experiences,” Raisys said. “We like people in the store, we like to talk to people, we like to tell people about the books that we like, and we can’t do any of that while this [pandemic] is going on.”

While for the most part the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected businesses, some owners choose to look on the bright side.

“[The outbreak is] actually forcing me to make changes that I have wanted to do that I’ve been procrastinating on,” Shawn Huffman, Shawn’s Cafe and Bakery owner, said.

While Shawn’s is not supporting in-store dining, the cafe remains open for takeout given the public’s desire for baked goods.

“I guess I am pretty lucky,” Huffman said. “Because people always need breads and baked goods and things like that to eat.”

Even with a significant demand, Huffan has still faced a few difficulties since the stay-at-home order was put in place.

“I had just wanted to hire a couple people,” Huffman said. “But the first couple weeks of the virus were really slow, so I couldn’t really keep them.”

Possibly the most troubling aspect of the pandemic is the uncertainty surrounding when businesses will be able to return to normal.

“It is hard to predict what the economy will look like once we are allowed to re-open,” Pietila said. “For the time being we are staying positive, staying engaged and hoping that some financial relief will come through.”

Nobody knows when businesses will fully re-open, but until then, the most important thing is for everyone to stay safe.

“For all of us on the island, for all the small businesses, we appreciate the support and the patience the community has shown for all of us,” Raisys said.