It’s been more than half a year since COVID-19 came to Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order went into effect, and many businesses closed, leaving office spaces and storefronts deserted and restaurants and community-gathering spaces vacant.
Some of those businesses had to close for good, yet others have managed to stay afloat during this tumultuous period.
“This is the hardest six months I’ve worked in my life,” Gabi Trautmann, owner of Gabi’s Olympic Cards & Comics in Lacey, said in a video published by Thurston Stories — a project by the Thurston Economic Development Council. “I had one day where I was scared about whether or not we were going to make it.”
Trautmann said she credits her community, in addition to relief loans and grants, with helping to keep her doors open.
“The Thurston County community has been very, very good to me during the whole time I’ve been open. We would not be here if it were not for how much the community cared about the store, because they are the ones that when we’ve hit any sort of bumps in the road over the last 27 years, they have been (there to help),” Trautmann said.
Small businesses, like Gabi’s, have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to monitor and track how businesses have been responding and surviving, the Association of Washington Business (AWB) conducted a survey in August. The results, published in September, showed that a majority of Washington employers are keeping steady despite significant declines in revenue, supply-chain disruptions, and other challenges.
Of the 457 Washington business employers surveyed, approximately 60 percent said their business has suffered as a result of the pandemic but that they were finding ways to weather the challenges. On the other hand, 7 percent said their business is struggling and might not survive. Perhaps surprisingly to some, approximately 23 percent reported their business has been mostly unfazed by the pandemic.
The majority of survey respondents were small businesses — with 80 percent employing fewer than 100 people and 37 percent employing 10 or fewer people.
Survival tactics have included laying off or furloughing staff, delaying new hires, and participating in aid programs such as the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. According to the survey, 65 percent of participants reported receiving funds through the PPP, 18 percent reported using Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and 6 percent said they used the state’s SharedWork program.
From this survey and other data AWB has seen, AWB President Kris Johnson said it’s clear that the state is facing an economic crisis that will take years to fully recover from, but he’s comforted to see businesses persevere.
“Employers are resourceful, and it’s encouraging to see that many are finding ways to manage through this, but they need help and support. Businesses are hurting, and lawmakers need to do everything they can to help us recover and build a stronger economy that works for every community in Washington,” he said.
AJ Gordon, director of growth and strategy at SiteCrafting in Tacoma, said the Pierce County business community has rallied together in an amazing way.
“I am proud of our local leadership and their commitment to being there for one another and making sure we get through this together,” he said on the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County website.
Survey respondents agreed that support still is needed. One way businesses said the state could assist during the economic downturn is by reducing the business and occupation (B&O) tax. According to the survey, 44 percent said they believe a B&O reduction would be the best way for the state to help businesses recover, followed by an unemployment insurance rate freeze and a workers’ compensation rate holiday.
However, many employers have faith that Washington will do what is needed to help everyone get through this period.
Ben Shah, CEO of Olympia Orthopaedic Associates, said in a video published by Thurston Stories that he believes the state “will do the right thing.”
“I really hope that within the next year we’re back to a normal that allows people to be outside — be social, be meeting, be happy — and I believe we’ll get there, and I think that Washington is one of the states that understands the importance of this and will get it done.” Shah said.