I took a stroll up 45th Street Saturday afternoon to check in on the local Wallingford businesses amidst the pandemic. There were a few surprises.
First stop was Slave the Needle tattoo parlor, where business was healthy (I saw three people getting inked on a Saturday afternoon), if a bit slow. There, they told me there had been a few cancelations, what with childcare during the day suddenly an issue, and of course tattoos being a luxury when paychecks are reduced or eliminated.
Better news awaited me at American Mary, one of our many local pot shops: “People need weed, even during the apocalypse,” Iyana Edouard told me. Business is definitely up, she said, with lines occasionally stretching out the door, due both to people stuck at home with more time for recreational activities, and also first time buyers looking for something to “chill them out from all the stress.”
In fact, I got the best news of the day from the “recreational drugs” stores: both City Cellars Fine Wines and Bottleworks said business is booming. Michael Herndon of City Cellars said that business this week has been about twice normal, with customers looking to fill the cellar for “wine and Netflix”. Likewise, Trevor at Bottleworks said that people were stocking up for time at home, and also just needed a place to get out and be with people. Both emphasized that they were taking precautions, and City Cellars has canceled their regular Friday Night wine tasting until further notice.
May I suggest to the beer, wine and weed folks that music would be a fine way to spend your idled days over the next few weeks? I didn’t get a chance to stop in at Golden Oldies, but Frank at Fat Cat Records is welcoming music lovers of all stripes. He said that the “bread and butter”, casual record buyers are thinning out, but the collectors are still coming in, and that’s who “keeps the lights on”. (I recently bought a turntable, and having dusted off my vinyl collection high school and college, realized it was thin and outdated. Fat Cat was a great place for this “bread and butter” buyer to fill it out.)
Bars seem to be doing OK, as well, which is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Changes, Al’s Tavern and Murphy’s all said business was basically the same, and judging from the lack of an empty Saturday afternoon bar stool at all three, I can’t doubt them.
The bartender at Al’s pointed around to folks nursing pints and playing pinball and said “every one of these folks is in their regular spot. We’re a regulars’ bar. Friday and Saturday nights are a bit slower now, but the regulars are going to come in, regardless.” He went on to say that he works at a couple other bars elsewhere in town, and has seen steep drop-offs in attendance there, just not at Al’s.
The bartender at Murphy’s added that they were “looking forward to Tuesday”, St. Patrick’s Day. Honestly, though, while I support local businesses and the people that support them, and I personally had a drink at Al’s Tavern Thursday night and a falafel plate (so good!) at Mr. Gyro’s Saturday, I don’t know know how I feel about St. Patrick’s Day bar crowds during this pandemic.
That’s not true: I know exactly how I feel. That’s a terrible idea.
Chris at Comic’s Dungeon had another surprise for me: while business has been a bit slow, they’ve seen a surge of customers now that the schools and libraries are closed, with parents and educators stocking up on books for kids. We were interrupted in our conversation by a woman who had just laid a stack of about 12 Dogman books on counter, confirming the trend. (Note to parents: Comics Dungeon has a healthy supply of books for children and adults of all ages, not just comic books.)
Restaurants, though, have been taking it in the jaw, so to speak. While there was line at Ezell’s Chicken, I spoke with people at Djan’s, Kozue, Mr. Gyros, Sisi Kay’s, Ramen Man, Teriyaki Madness, Jhanjay, Almanqal, and Mejari and virtually all said that business was off by 40 – 50%. Pam’s Kitchen recently posted a note to Facebook encouraging people uncomfortable about coming in to call for delivery. All talked about reduced shifts for workers and some had reduced their opening hours altogether. This is going to be a very difficult time for service workers, and I worry that many small businesses won’t be able to ride this out, leaving waiters, cooks and dishwashers without income altogether.
Coffee shops have also seen a drop in business, but not as bad as the restaurants, from what I heard. Sarah from a Muddy Cup confirmed that things were a bit slower, and noted that they are only serving coffee in “to go” cups, not their usual assortment of thrift store mugs for safety. At Chocolati, the barista said that while the overall number of customers coming in was down somewhat, people were tipping more, which sounds just about right for what I know about the folks here in Wallingford.
Bakeries like The Sweet Side, which rely on pre-orders for big events, have been clobbered by cancelations, and I have to imagine that Cubes Baking is going to be in a similar boat. Both do serve coffee and goodies for walk-ins, so those venturing out can soothe their sweet tooth.
Molly Moon’s Ice Cream, however, said that they’ve seen little drop-off. In fact, the scooper said that they’re seeing “Friday night crowds on weekdays,” what with all the kids off from school and parents working from home.
Seattle Pops was a bit more circumspect. They said that they’re still getting the “after dinner” rush, but of course the “after school” rush they used to get from Lincoln High (situated just a half-block away) had, of course, disappeared. Overall, business was up from last month (not surprising for a popsicle shop coming out of winter), but down from the same time last year. Pops’ Lindsey Janes also noted that said that a big part of their business comes from sales at summer farmers markets, so what happens there remains to be seen.
Like Seattle Pops, Fainting Goat said they had seen a drop off in business, and added that scoopers were pulling fewer shifts. The traffic was down there, although Haley said she had just served a large group of kids wandering about together, unquarantined. She also noted that many of the people working in shops like Fainting Goat (and many of the people visiting) were college students who now had to return home, adding further complexity to the situation.
Retail, too, has been hit hard. Archie McPhee’s, although they appeared to be doing well when I stopped in, with at least a dozen customers in the aisles, will be closing for at least a month as of Sunday evening. They have online sales to fall back on, but smaller shops like Peti Boutique are not so lucky. Peti owner (and Wallingford resident) Megali Colzo said walk-in traffic was way down, and encouraged anyone interested to call or email, and she would be happy to send photos, ship or deliver items. She said she was considering closing temporarily out of concern for the clients, but as a small business owner, this is a difficult decision.
Strongly established businesses like Bedrooms and More (who said traffic was not outside of normal variance) and Harold’s Lighting was in a different position, though. I chatted for a while with Harold’s owner Kim Hansen, who said that while business was down 50%, they were somewhat insulated from the bottom dropping out on retail business by their repair business. He related how back in the 1970’s, when the economy was also going through a rough patch, they stayed strong because people were getting things repaired instead of just throwing things away and buying new, and he expected they would come through this downturn in a similar way.
“People would come in just to check in on us, and they would end up buying something just to help out. That’s the kind of neighborhood this is. We all just need to look out for each other now,” he told me. “Hard times bring out the best in people.” I hope he’s right.
Kim also had some great tidbits of local history: I didn’t know that Harold’s occupied the Guild 45th theater building from 1957 – 1967, for example. When I showed him the photo I had run earlier this week of the Harold’s Lighting building from the 1930’s, he talked about how he had pulled the boards off the brickwork that was no exposed and cleaned things up, talking through the architectural details with an artist’s love.
The Hawaiian General Store offered me a cheerful “aloha”, but said that they weren’t giving out their usual hugs. They were, though, talking about ways to give to the community, like delivering leis to local senior centers. At The Sock Monster, I was told that everyone was working half the shifts they usually would. The owner was contemplating additional PTO for employees, which is kind, but obviously, the business needs to keep selling merchandise to stay viable.
The hair and nail salons all were overall optimistic. Night Light Nails seemed surprised I was even asking how business was, and most of the salons, like Chroma and Moxie Salon, said that while they had seen some cancelations from clients due to fears of either infecting or being infected, mostly people were still showing up, and all emphasized that salons already have strict regulations around health and sanity that they have to abide by. Hannah at Moxie said they’ve stopped re-using capes between clients and sterilize the chairs and equipment between each use.
“I’ve been here 33 years, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cindy said. “We started to see cancelations starting Tuesday. There are four stylists here, we’re all independent, so everyone is worried about their livelihood. People know I specialize in curly hair, I had a woman just come up from Tacoma today, for example, so we get people from all over, but we don’t know what will happen.”
Cory Gassman, owner of Wallingford’s School of Bike and my infrequent cribbage companion, allowed how his schedule recently would allow more time for cribbage. He said there had been a brief spike in business just before the schools had closed, but since then had seen business fall off precipitously.
“It’s a ghost town,” Cory said, “but it shouldn’t be. Biking is the best sport for social distancing. People need to stay healthy and get out in the sunshine, and biking is a safe, non-virulent way to do that.”
Commune Yoga has reduced the maximum number of people allowed in a class from 44 to 25 to give yogis a little more breathing room. They’ve also changed up their cleaning solutions to include hydrogen peroxide per CDC recommendations, and stopped renting yoga mats for classes. I was turned away from a 10 AM class for lack of room, and the noon class on Saturday was close to full, as well, so they’re still doing a strong business, albeit at reduced capacity.
Shops like Saltstone Ceramics and Seattle Stained Glass have had to cancel some classes, but are otherwise doing alright. At Seattle Stained Glass, people are picking up supplies for hobby projects during the long spell coming up at home, and Saltstone is keeping their open office hours and their one-night classes active.
On the way home, I ran into Jenny Robinson, walker of dogs and occasional sitter of cats (but definitely not reader of Internets.) She said that she’s been doing well, despite the “work from home” edicts and the school closures. People still need their dogs walked, so they can focus on getting their work done, whether it be from office or home. I did hear that Yani Wood’s Lucky Petsitting was seeing cancelations, with people home to walk their own pooches, though.
Finally, drug stores like Bartell Drugs are doing just fine (although they said they will be out of Purell, rubbing alcohol, disinfectant wipes and the like for weeks.)
And obviously, Indigo Urgent Care has had an unfortunate surge of visitors. Sebrina told me the bulk of the traffic is people phoning in for consultations, as well as people coming in hoping for COVID tests. It sounds like there’s quite a few people who don’t actually qualify for the test (which is still in short supply) but are tailoring the stories they tell to get them anyway (and then changing their stories once in the exam room.) Don’t do that, people.
She also mentioned that because of high demand, their website has been freezing up, so if you are having trouble making an appointment, give them a call, same day slots are almost always available.
And that’s the news from 45th Street in Wallingford, Seattle. It’s tough out there, but everyone I spoke to, absolutely everyone, had a determined and compassionate feel about what was going on. Business owners’ first worry was for their employees and for the health of their clients. Service workers all expressed worries for their co-workers first, their clients and only after that themselves.
Things are going to get worse before they get better, so like Kim from Harold’s Lighting said, we all need to look out for each other now, more than ever. We’re good people, let’s do what we can.
(Update: On Sunday, March 15, Governor Inslee announced he would be signing an order to “temporarily shut down restaurants, bars and entertainment and recreational facilities“. Take-out and delivery service will be allowed.)