Businesses across industries are having to quickly pivot and reevaluate how to keep doors open in light of the COVID-19 crisis. On Wednesday’s COVID-19 Business Info Series webinar, leaders representing industries including utilities, hospitality, tourism, and restaurants spoke to the ways in which their industries have been hardest hit, and what they’re doing about it now.
Puget Sound Energy’s Andy Wappler, vice president of communication and customer operations, assured customers that “they will have power and gas throughout this crisis” and that nobody should worry about keeping the lights on or electricity running.
“There will not be any late fees or interest accrued during this time,” Wappler said. “In two weeks, we’re also extending the economic assistance available to our customers. We know this is going to be a tough time paying the bills.”
In the hospitality industry, Joe Bushnell of the Washington Hospitality Association said “we’re trying to assist those (restaurants) that cannot change their business models right now to apply for SBA loans and other forms of assistance.”
Downtown Tacoma’s Indochine is one of the restaurants that has managed to keep its doors open through delivery and takeout. Even so, owner Russel Brunton reported that sales are down 85 to 90 percent, and that he had to lay off half the staff and reduce hours for remaining staff.
“The good news is that this is our second week, and sales are starting to stabilize,” Brunton said. “Customers have been very supportive. Calling in makes us a lot more money than delivery, but I know that delivery is convenient for folks and we’re happy to have both. We’ve also found that this has been a time for us to try new things and learn new lessons.”
Dean Burke, CEO of Travel Tacoma — Mount Rainier Tourism and Sports, reported hotel occupancy down to about 8 percent, with quite a few closures and consolidations of hotels throughout the area. As far as events at large venues go, he said that everything taking place at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center and the Tacoma Dome is still a go — as of now — for August.
Monday’s webinar covered information on emergency loan information for small businesses, with local economic and bank leaders emphasizing that hard work is going on behind the scenes, but that applications are not yet open.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about applications, and I want to say that the stuff you see about applications being open immediately is not correct,” said Scott Bossom, Sr. VP at Columbia Bank. “We have to wait for the SBA to come out with guidance on how banks will process these loans. Be in touch with your bank and they should let you know when it’s ready. And know that all the lenders are doing everything we can to prepare.”