EVERETT— Renee’s Contemporary Clothing in downtown Everett caters to shoppers who like to pop in and browse the racks.
But when the statewide COVID-19 shutdown closed hundreds of local businesses, the women’s boutique turned to online sales.
“It got us through paying our expenses and overhead,” said Sharon Stanford, who co-owns the business with her sister, Sue Nemo.
In Mukilteo, the KreativMndz Dance Complex pivoted to online dance lessons, and instructors streamed hip-hop classes from their kitchens.
But virtual sales weren’t an option for Toby Dziubala, whose family owns Captain Dizzy Car Wash in Marysville. (“You can’t wash a car online,” he said.)
Or John Pedigo, owner of Pedigo Piano in Everett. (“Pianos are much like cars,” said Pedigo. “It’s hard to buy one without testing it out.”)
Still, many local businesses found creative ways to keep their doors open — even if that was only virtually — during the closure.
Now that Snohomish County has entered Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan to reopen the state, they’ve had to change course again and try to shoehorn their operations to fit Phase 2 restrictions.
For most, it’s hardly business as usual.
Masks, social-distancing and building capacity limits — 30% for retailers — have meant rearranging the showroom, installing sneeze guards at check stands and limiting customer volume.
Other firms, trying to keep human contact to a minimum, are sticking to credit card sales only. Funko, the pop culture toymaker, recently reopened its flagship Everett store but for now isn’t accepting cash.
Some businesses that have reopened face the added burden of unpaid bills and back rent — economic fallout from the 10-week shutdown.
Renee’s Contemporary Clothing, 2820 Colby Ave., Everett
About half of Renee’s customers have returned, but not enough yet to bring back the store’s single employee.
“I think they’re still concerned about COVID-19,” Stanford said.
Stanford, who reopened Renee’s earlier this month, is counting on a $10,000 CARES Act grant she received from the city of Everett this spring.
“The grant will help pay for some inventory that we have not yet been able to pay for,” Stanford said.
The city awarded 50 $10,000 business grants to support brick-and-mortar firms with 20 or fewer employees.
Stanford wears a face covering and has asked customers to do the same. She is limiting the number of people in the store.
Most business owners interviewed for this story are optimistic that they’ll be able to get back on their feet, but all fear another lengthy pause should the number of COVID-19 cases spike and government officials order nonessential firms to again close their doors.
“A second shutdown — that’s my worry,” said Stanford. “I try not to think about it — I don’t know if we could survive.”
KreativMndz Dance Complex, 12138 Mukilteo Speedway, Mukilteo
Eileen Torres, co-owner of KreativMndz in Mukilteo, has to remind herself, “This isn’t our fault. This is beyond our control — as business owners we have to remember that.”
At the beginning of the year, the hip-hop dance school was looking forward to a barrage of new students. Its two studios can accommodate up to 65 people. “We had a lot of new kids,” said Shumon Wood, the school’s assistant creative director.
Then the coronavirus hit. Complete shutdown. Over time, some dance instruction shifted to online, but it was limited.
“We went from 44 classes a week to 11,” Torres said.
The Mukilteo dance complex reopened this month but with fewer students and smaller classes. Only five dancers and one instructor are allowed to be in one of the studios.
For Wood, it was a joyous reunion with students. “I saw kids I hadn’t seen since March. We were all excited to be in the same place together,” he said.
But despite reopening, the threat of a permanent closure looms.
“We have not been able to successfully pay our rent since the end of March because of a lack of revenue,” Torres said.
She and Kolanie Marks, a co-owner and founder, launched a GoFundMe campaign in hopes of raising $150,000. The money would be used to pay back rent and other expenses at the Mukilteo location and a Los Angeles location, Torres said.
“We are a small female, minority-owned, Black-owned business,” said Torres. “I’ve poured my entire life into this. We’ve got to claw our way back.”
Denise Wilson, a fifth-grade teacher in Arlington, hopes the dance studio will flourish for her and her daughter’s sake.
Wilson’s 11-year-old daughter, Kiera, began having seizures when she was a first-grader. By third grade, the “vivacious little kiddo was in a dark place,” Wilson said. Hoping to ease her daughter back into some activities, she came across the dance studio. Where other groups had said ‘no’ over concern with Kiera’s seizures, KreativMndz “opened their doors without question to my daughter,” Wilson said. “They’ve given her so much confidence. We just don’t want to see them shut their doors — they’ve done so much.”
Wild Birds Unlimited, 4821 Evergreen Way, Everett
Within a week of its Phase 2 opening, the bird supply store’s five employees and Rosie, the shop cat, returned to work.
“Our customers are flocking in,” said Jenny Blase, the store’s general manager. Wild Birds Unlimited in Everett is a franchise but locally owned by Shannon Bailey.
During the shutdown, online orders ticked upward. The store closed but provided curbside delivery as an agricultural supplier, Blase said.
“Our customers stayed loyal to us” and to a hungry bird population busy with “nesting season and having babies,” Blase said.
When the Everett store unlocked its doors for the first time this month, a throng of customers waited outside, Blase said.
“They were excited to take a look around,” she said. Some continue with the curbside pick-up option.
Besides seed mix, the store sells bird houses, bird baths and binoculars. Employees practice social-distancing and wear masks.
“We’re having a really good month so far,” Blase said.
“Another shutdown would be a bad idea,” said Blase. “Especially for the businesses around here, our little plaza (Claremont Village) on Evergreen.”
Captain Dizzy Car Wash, 1219 State Ave., Marysville
Shutting down the Marysville car wash for 10 weeks was a tough move for owner Dziubala, but this month his 80-year-old father, Captain Dizzy’s founder, John Dziubala, died.
John Dziubala was a recently retired airline pilot when he opened the car wash in 1994. “My dad was a self-made man,” said Toby Dziubala, proudly.
“My dad started on the ramp at United Airlines, which paid for flying lessons,” Toby said. In time, he became a pilot at United and flew some of the most iconic passenger planes of past decades, including the Douglas DC-8, Boeing 747 and the McDonald-Douglas MD-11. “On his first day as a pilot, the boss dubbed him ‘Captain Dizzy’ because he couldn’t pronounce his last name,” he said.
The name stuck. Captain Dizzy at the controls. “You could not have met a guy with a better sense of humor,” Toby Dziubala said of his father.
Toby, 40, has been around the business since he was a teen, but neither his dad nor the general manager cut him any slack. When he showed up late for work the second time, the manager fired him. “It didn’t matter that I was the boss’ son,” Toby laughed.
Although the cash register is the only point of contact at the automated car wash, the business closed for the outbreak.
“We were part of the shutdown order like everyone else,” Dziubala said.
“During the shutdown I made sure all the employees —14 full-time — stayed on the payroll,” said Dziubala, who gave himself a 50% pay cut.
He immediately applied for and received a Small Business Administration loan.
On June 7, the car wash reopened with all 14 full-time employees.
Like other employers, Toby worries about the possibility of a second shutdown.
“If I do the numbers in my head, well, we could probably live through an eight-month shutdown, but after that we’d be in dire straits,” he said.
Pedigo Piano, 4707 Evergreen Way, Everett
John Pedigo has been selling pianos for 56 years. In 1971 he opened his own store on Evergreen Way.
With the county in Phase 2, he’s glad to be back on the sales floor, welcoming customers.
Upright pianos, a grand piano and baby grands, some as shiny as onyx, anchor the store.
On a recent afternoon, he demonstrated his finesse, first with a Broadway show tune and then a 1950s foot-stomper.
“Who wants to buy a piano without playing it?” said Pedigo, 77, looking up from the keyboard.
Pedigo launched a big sale this month to entice people to visit and give the keyboards a tryout.
Closed, there was no way for him or customers to tickle the ivories. Sales dropped.
Music teachers who rented the store’s practice rooms were also locked out.
“I don’t know when they’ll be able to come back,” he said.
The shutdown and the uncertainty around it took a toll, said Pedigo. In the aftermath, he drew up plans to retire in the next two years.
Pedigo Piano — the store — will go on, said Pedigo, “but I won’t be at the helm.”
He paused and said, “I hope all these businesses can recover. We’re mom-and-pop businesses. We’re the backbone of the nation.”
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods