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Canned beers from FrinGe Brewing (March 2020). Photo courtesy of FrinGe Brewing

Ferndale area businesses are struggling to survive during COVID-19 crisis

FERNDALE, Wash. — Businesses in all sectors around the world have been impacted in one way or another due to the COVlD-19 crisis. Ferndale area businesses have been no exception.

While some restaurants and retailers have been able to remain open for business in various forms, many other businesses have been forced to close their doors.

Layoffs have resulted due to business closures and reductions in business. The Washington State Department of Employment Security has reported over 1.7 million initial claims have been filed and $2.9 billion in benefits paid since March 7th.

Some Ferndale businesses have been forced to implement new ways of doing business in order to continue serving their customers and maintain some cash flow, the lifeblood of any business.

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Gym Star Sports Center, located at 5519 Hovander Road recently announced auditions would be held for upcoming Stellar Dance classes. Typically such auditions would be scheduled and performed live in front of the instructors. But, given current social distancing and business requirements, auditions are being accepted via video.

Dancers accepted into the Stellar Dance program will be provided videos for different dance genres to be practiced. Students are then to submit videos of themselves performing the dance exercises for review and critique.

There was a NY times article that was published just before everything shut down that linked pediatric health and well being to activity and participation in sports. Even though we are working hard to do everything we can over video, our students would greatly benefit from returning to the gym and studio. We have plans ready to be set into action to address safety by decreased numbers in practices and classes, increased cleaning and sanitizing practices and also safe distancing within our facilities. 

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STELLAR DANCE STUDIO DIRECTOR Erin Tilson Johnson (April 2020)

In similar fashion, MVP Martial Arts and Fitness owner McKenna Pinto-Gonzalez has taken their martial arts courses online. When Pinto-Gonzalez, a 3-time amateur martial arts champion, had to close the studio, located at 1920 Main Street, in mid-March, she immediately announced to the students that class videos would be made available online and for the students to submit video recordings of themselves performing the assigned exercises.

Pinto-Gonzalez and her staff are online most weekdays providing real time responses to questions and video submissions. “Just think of the studio being open from 12:00 Noon until 6:15PM Monday-Thursday,” Pinto-Gonzalez told students and parents.

Pinto-Gonzalez’s father, Mick Jolly, a 5th-degree martial arts expert in his own right, said he remembered a time when there wasn’t a martial arts studio in every town and the only feasible way for many to learn new skills was through films and accompanying scripts. “In many ways, we are returning to those days but, with the Internet, it is so much easier to do now,” Jolly said.

Jolly said teaching martial arts by video is different than doing it in person, “You can rewind and play a video in slow motion. This allows the instructor to focus on what the student is doing with one part of their body and then play it back while focusing on another part. But at the same time it lacks the immediate feedback and correction that happens when working together in-person.”

Massage therapist and Satori Healing Massage Owner Satori Hanson said while she has not been able to see clients, she has used the time to get caught up on administrative tasks and has been selling gift certificates good for future visits.

Hanson was preparing to expand her business when the COVID-19 crisis hit. She says she is still making preparations to expand once she is able to see clients again. She is also working on her continuing education credits, a requirement for renewing her license later this year.

Hanson said she set up a GoFundMe page, “where I am crediting people’s accounts for what they donate.” Donations include a $500 micro-grant provided by GoFundMe’s Small Business Relief Fund. Hanson says she plans on donating a portion of the amount raised to the Ferndale Food Bank.

Many, but not all, Ferndale area restaurants were able to remain open after closing their dining rooms by providing to-go and delivery service. According to 1 restaurateur who wished to remain anonymous, the first 2 weeks after the governor’s restaurant dining closure order were bleak, operating at a loss each day. Hours were drastically reduced and then business began picking back up, reaching a point where customers were complaining they could not get through by phone to place orders since the phone line was busy. While open only a few hours a day, “We are not where we were but at least I can continue paying the staff remaining and pay my bills.”

New restauranteur Rhonda Wright, owner of The Meeting Place, located on the corner of Vista Drive and 4th Avenue, said this was the 2nd “whammy” she has had to suffer in her first year of business.

The Meeting Place opened in April of 2019. Wright said she then had to close her doors in August due to a Whatcom County Health Department requirement to install another sink. She had the sink installed within a week, Wright said, but it was nearly 2 months later before a follow-up inspection was done and she received approval to reopen. “I lost thousands just in food inventory due to that closure,” Wright said.

Then, nearly on the 1-year anniversary of opening her business, Wright found herself again closing her doors for an indeterminant amount of time. “I tried to remain open because we had finally begun doing great but I couldn’t,” she said citing low sales and concern for her staff’s safety. “And again, I lost thousands of dollars in food that I had to give away before it went bad.”

Owner Rhonda Wright poses inside The Meeting Place while she prepares to reopen after being closed for nearly a month due to the COVID-19 crisis (May 16, 2020). Photo: My Ferndale News
Owner Rhonda Wright poses inside The Meeting Place while she prepares to reopen after being closed for nearly a month due to the COVID-19 crisis (May 16, 2020). Photo: My Ferndale News

After being closed since March 24th, Wright says she is planning to reopen at 6am tomorrow, May 18th, with her full menu available via to-go and delivery service. “I missed celebrating the business’ anniversary with customers so there will be specials and we will be celebrating somehow.”

Wright is already preparing the dining area for when the Whatcom County is eventually approved for Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan and she can open it up to sit-down customers.

At FrinGe Brewing, located at 5640 3rd Avenue, co-owner Jeff Lazzari said they have been able to stay open by providing to-go service and found themselves developing new strategies as time went by.

As luck would have it, Lazzari said, they had just bought a single-can seamer for canning their fresh-brewed beer just weeks before the COVID-19 crisis hit. “It had just been purchased for some one-off stuff and ended up being our lifeline.” 60-70% of sales have come from product sold in cans, he said, something they would not have been able to offer before they bought the seamer.

“A lot of regulars have been supporting us with regular purchases each week,” Lazzari said. “Those regulars have been the biggest factor in keeping us going.”


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