Owners hopeful summer brings more customers
Methow Valley outdoor stores have stayed open, in a variety of capacities, throughout the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. However, business has been varied. And looking forward to the summer tourism season, business owners feel uncertain.
Methow Cycle & Sport’s doors have been open as bicycle repair and maintenance qualifies as an essential business.
“We’re starting to see a little uptick in our regional neighbors coming to visit,” said Methow Cycle & Sport co-owner Julie Muyalleart. “Time will tell … if people are comfortable traveling. It will really determine what our summer season looks like. We’re planning for the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario.”
The shop in Winthrop has had to cancel a variety of annual events it hosts in the spring and early summer, like last weekend’s scheduled Trek Dirt Series, a mountain bike skills camp, which Muyalleart hopes to be able to reschedule for the fall.
However, business has been good overall, according to Muyalleart. “In the early weeks, and first month [of the governor’s quarantine order], when people were really staying quite close to home, bicycling was something that folks could do,” she said.
“We saw a fair number of people who hadn’t cycled in a while, but had a bike sitting around in the garage,” said Muyalleart. “In many cases these bikes needed repairs, so we helped those people get out and get some exercise.”
Methow Cycle & Sport has developed a variety of protocols for operating during the coronavirus pandemic. Apart from limiting the number of customers allowed in the shop, requiring washing of hands for those who enter, and having social distancing signage, the bike shop disinfects bikes before bringing them in for repair and then disinfects them again before returning them to customers.
“We take all of this very seriously and are committed to the safety of our employees, customers and community, and in helping people get out and ride their bikes safely,” said Muyalleart.
Slow but steady
“It’s slow but steady. April is always our slowest month of the year, and we certainly have been slower,” said Rita Kenny, co-owner of Winthrop Mountain Sports, who applied for a variance from the state in order to keep the business open through the Washington State Business Re-Entry Registration.
“We had a response within 24 hours from the state, that said it was fine for us to be open,” said Kenny, “In Omak, you can go to Walmart to get shoes, but we don’t have anything like that here. In that sense we are essential, in being able to provide things that are essential. Our sales aren’t huge by any means, but after 26 years of being here, we know what people need this time of year.”
Before Winthrop Mountain Sports had obtained its variance to stay open during the governor’s order, the shop was visited by the Winthrop Marshal, who had received a call that the shop was violating the state order by staying open.
“I was going to push it as hard as I could,” said Kenny. “Does essential mean the same thing in the Methow Valley as it does in Seattle? In looking back over the past couple of months, isn’t it a question that needs to be answered county by county?”
“We need to take a look at what the needs of the community are, and have access to what the community needs on a daily basis,” said Kenny. “I think we’ve learned a lot from this.”
Across the street, Cascades Outdoor Store co-owners Brian and Amy Sweet also petitioned to be added to the list of businesses that were allowed to be open. “The store’s technically open for essential supplies, but it’s not like people are going out,” said Amy Sweet. “It’s the quietest we’ve ever seen it. It’s not good.”
A rule for essential businesses is that they cannot have more than nine people in a store at a time, a rule that Sweet says is easy to follow. “There is no such thing as a crowd of nine people at one time. People are only coming in if they really need something,” she said.
“Now that the trails are open again, I think people will be able to get out more. And luckily people can disperse on the trails,” said Sweet, who has yet to see an increase in sales since the opening of state public lands. “Our whole way of life is pretty spaced out here. I hope people will feel more and more comfortable going out as things continue.”
“I’m normally a pretty positive person, but I think the valley is going to take a pretty big hit,” Sweet said of the summer tourism season. “Right now there are no tourists. We’re seeing all locals, but not many. I think it will be a really tough summer for businesses in the valley.”
Up-valley in Mazama, Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies has stayed open by appointment only.
“Sales are down for sure,” said co-manager Joel Forrest. “But this is a slow time of year for us anyway.”
“We’ve been able to keep the employees we do have working. We’ve been able to find enough stuff to do around the shop, like summer ordering,” continued Forrest, who said the shop has accepted a Paycheck Protection Program loan to help offset the lack of sales.
“The weekend we decided to shut down we were slammed. We decided we needed to do something to deal with it,” said Forrest. “I think at that point some of us had started making changes in our lifestyle, and it felt like our choices weren’t going to matter if these people coming in weren’t making the same choices.”
“So, we shut down early on. We felt strongly about our decision to close down, and it’s something we’re glad we did,” said Forrest. “Everyone felt strongly that that was the right decision to make in regards to keeping the community safe.”
Gov. Jay Inslee has expanded the services that retail stores are allowed to provide as of last Friday (May 8), to include curbside retail sales. When the governor’s four-phase reopening moves into Phase II, retail stores will be allowed to open their doors to the public, with a few restrictions still in place.
“It’s only going to get busier,” said Forrest, who noted he’s seen more mountain bikers and climbers in Mazama and the surrounding area.
“We’re not opposed to that, we rely on tourists to come over here and support us, but we’re going to very much adapt the way we operate,” he said.