Focused on safety of workers, shoppers
As the Methow Valley settles into life during the coronavirus pandemic, smaller grocery stores and gas stations are implementing safety measures while keeping their businesses going.
“We’re doing okay. In the beginning it was pretty tough, it was an unknown that caught everybody off guard,” said Bonnie Harvey, manager at Hank’s Mini Mart in Twisp. “We’ve bumped up our sanitizing practices, we have wipes at the pumps, and are sanitizing. I think as soon as people adjusted to what was going on it picked up. Nobody wants to be restricted, but nobody wants to be ill. We’re just really trying to clean and sanitize as best we can, while still doing business.”
Meanwhile, prices at the gas pumps have gone down as the worldwide prices for oil have plummeted — and sales have gone up.
Installed in front of the register at the Mini Mart is a piece of Plexiglas, now a common sight at most grocery stores, to help keep contaminating particles from spreading. Inspired by a photo that Harvey’s husband, who’s a long-haul trucker, sent her of an adjustable Plexiglas shield at a truck stop window in Iowa, the Mini Mart’s Plexiglas shield is removable, which allows workers to adjust it in order to accommodate the limited space inside.
“We want it to be safe for everyone. They appreciate it and feel more comfortable coming in,” said Harvey. “Everybody needs fuel and groceries.”
Also in Twisp, the Glover Street Market continues to offer a full range of groceries, and the Chevron gas station is available for quick stops. According to the Glover Street Market website, the store is open regular hours and offers a “Shop & Box” service. Store workers clean and sanitize regularly, and gloves are available for customers. The kitchen and juice bar is open for take-out.
On the front line
“Business is good, but not great,” said Bart Bradshaw, owner of Pardner’s Mini Market in Winthrop, who’s seen a lull in business he attributes to a lack of tourism and construction work.
Looking forward to the summer months, Bradshaw is concerned about continued impacts to business in the Methow Valley. “There’s a lot of businesses, that if they don’t have a good summer, they’re going to be in big trouble,” said Bradshaw, who is also a certified public accountant with many local clients. “If we don’t open back up [under state guidelines], there’s going to be bankruptcy, to a proportion that’s not going to be healthy for anybody.”
Bradshaw is keeping the gas pumps running, while implementing health and safety protocol at Pardner’s, with hourly cleaning, Plexiglas shields at the register, and workers wearing gloves.
“They’re on the front line,” said Bradshaw of his employees. “It’s pretty amazing how the clerks are braving this, and just how tough they are.”
Up the road at the Winthrop Store, owner Mitch Rowland hasn’t taken much of a hit in fuel sales. “We’re still running pretty strong,” said Rowland. “I’d like to see a lot more, but it’s situational spending.”
“I built my business [which includes a deli] to cater to the locals,” said Rowland. “[But] we’re starting to see more traffic, outside of locals. This past weekend I probably saw more non-locals than locals.”
“I think it’s because the locals are so prepared,” said Rowland. “Growing up in the valley we always had supplies stocked … one of the great things about growing up in the valley is that you can stay at home and sustain your family. [Residents can] take a once a week trip to town, and just go back to their house. That’s why I think people can stay out of town longer.”
Keeping the pumps and store clean has become a large part of the job. “We’re always washing our hands and wearing gloves. We have an hourly sanitation schedule, just because we have so much traffic,” said Rowland. “We provide disposable gloves for people who want to get fuel, or we’ll go out and pump people’s fuel. I’m never afraid to open a door for somebody.”
Hopeful for summer
Tenderfoot General Store owner Paul Burgess has seen his Winthrop business taper off, and while that’s typical for this time of year, Burgess is concerned that a lack of summer tourism will keep business slow.
“I have winter and I have summer, and it’s winter until fishing season,” said Burgess, who is now feeling a lack of tourism affect his business, since fishing season has been postponed. “I’m really going to get effected starting this weekend. Because it’s my first big weekend, which isn’t going to happen.”
“I definitely can’t afford an employee until things change, until they change a lot,” said Burgess, who’s been solely running his shop since having to let both of his employees go last month.
“I try to be positive, I’m hoping we get tourists; I’m hoping people show up. I think there’s going to be enough people for me to survive, but who knows,” said Burgess. “I don’t think we’re going to set any records, but it’s got to pick up.”
At the far end of the valley, the Mazama Store has been operating out of a walk-up window, after choosing to close its doors two days before the May 16 mandate from Gov. Jay Inslee requiring restaurants to stop in-house dining.
“We’re such a meeting place, which is why we decided to do the window,” said Marielle LeDuc, daughter of store owners Rick and Missy LeDuc. “We had people hanging out in the store, which is great but not during this time.”
Now a month into the new format, the Mazama Store is finding its pace, operating during the pandemic. “We’re limiting contact as much as possible with customers, and we have a smaller crew working,” said LeDuc. “We’re mostly just trying to be as safe as possible.”
The store has a sign out front asking customers waiting in-line to keep 6 feet of space between themselves, gloves are available at the gas pumps, and a bottle of hand-sanitizer sits on the walk-up counter for customers to use. There is also a basket of homemade masks next to the window that one of the store’s employees has been sewing.
Business has not slowed down too much for the store, which now offers phone and email orders, allowing customers to simply stop by and pick up their pre-packed grocery orders, a service that has become popular. The store has also been working on getting orders delivered to customers who may not feel comfortable leaving, or are not able to leave their house.
“Especially with some of our older customers, we’ve been making sure we can bring their orders to them,” said LeDuc. “We have a few older customers that come regularly, we’ve offered it, but I think most of them want to get out of the house anyway.”
While gas sales have stayed about the same, the store has seen an increase in grocery sales. “It seems like everybody is trying to bake right now,” said LeDuc, who noted that dry goods have been selling quickly, along with the store’s homemade frozen meals and as produce.
“We’re selling more produce on a weekday than we would on a weekend day in May,” said LeDuc. “We’re selling a ton of our homemade freezer meals. We keep trying to replenish our stock of them … but we can’t keep up. And of course beer and wine.”
Looking forward, the unknown is how the coronavirus will effect summer tourism and summer business in the valley.
“Our plan is to keep doing what we’re doing and what’s best for employees and our customers,” said LeDuc. “The community is really coming together; everybody is really helping each other out.”