provide vital support
By Julie Tate-Libby
Running a small business in the Methow Valley is hard. I know this because over 20 years ago, my husband and I bought a tiny restaurant in downtown Winthrop and ran it for five years. At 22 years old, we were ill-prepared for the 18-hour workdays, demanding tourist families, the heat, the wasps, or balancing a budget.
Filing quarterly payroll taxes sent me into a panic. What was Social Security anyway? Our first Labor Day weekend, we watched as the line of cars heading out of town backed up to the bridge. That day we made over 800 cups of espresso.
The only thing worse than those frenzied 100-degree days was watching the snow spin during a dead winter and ringing out the till with grand total of $36.33. We had bought ourselves a job. A job as demanding and unforgiving as parenting, as I would learn later. That night, sitting on a flour bin with my back to the pizza oven, I decided to apply to graduate school.
The Grubstake, as the restaurant was named, paid my way. It also put a down payment on our first home, paid for several trips overseas, and set us up for the rest of our adult lives. I learned two things doing business in Winthrop: That is was harder work than I would ever do again, and that contrary to popular belief, a restaurant can make money.
But doing business in the Methow is hard. Things have changed. Shoulder seasons are busier. Fires are more severe. Minimum wage has doubled; rent has almost tripled. Food costs are higher. We thought online competition was bad in 2000. Try 2020. Today Methow businesses struggle not only with the vagaries of a seasonal tourist economy, but also fire, floods, drought, online competition — and now COVID-19.
Over the last three months, 80% of non-essential Methow Valley businesses have closed. Of the businesses still open, most have lost over 75% of their revenue. According to our Small Business Survey at TwispWorks, 50% of these businesses will remain closed forever if things continue beyond September.
While small businesses are asked to donate money or products for arts events, community functions, parades, and dozens of swim team sponsorships, they can’t ask for money themselves. Small businesses are expected to manage their own affairs. If they fail to save enough money to get through a slow winter or a bad fire season, it’s their fault. But certainly, no business owner could have predicted a pandemic that would shut some businesses down for months on end.
Most of you have already heard of the Methow Valley Small Business Emergency Fund TwispWorks and the Methow Valley Long Term Recovery Group launched in partnership along with Okanogan County. This week, we awarded 10 grants of $1,500 each to a variety of small businesses that have otherwise fallen through the cracks. While some businesses with larger payrolls have qualified for the Paycheck Protection Program or the Small Business Association’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan, many businesses have simply not qualified for any assistance. Out of the 43 applications we received, 56% report having not received additional funding.
The grants have been awarded to businesses that keep our valley alive with essential services such as auto repair, office supplies, retail shopping, and hospitality. Among the businesses receiving grants were Old School House Brewery, the Thrifty Fox, Twisp Daily Business, Linwood Restaurant, Diamond Patina, and Kevin’s Collision and Auto Repair. We would like to open the second round of funding to include the 30-plus businesses that have already applied as well as additional businesses that are just hearing about this opportunity.
More help needed
We know these gifts are small. Most businesses have fixed monthly expenses closer to $3,000 just to keep the doors open. This doesn’t include buying products or food costs. However, we rely on these businesses to provide the lifestyle we treasure here in the Methow. Eating out on a Friday night, having a cocktail with friends, or buying running shoes, we take it for granted that these businesses will be here when we need them.
Like our natural ecosystem, a diverse and resilient business community keeps the rest of our economy afloat. Landlords need renters. Residents need supplies. Employees need jobs. The web of our economy is multilayered and surprisingly, vulnerable. Please consider donating to the Methow Valley Small Business Emergency Fund. The money is more than money — it’s a symbol that we value the people who support our lifestyle and that we are all in this together.
Julie Tate-Libby is the program director of TwispWorks.