Editor's note: This article was sponsored by Redmond Town Center.
To say that small businesses have been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is a vast understatement. We caught up with four business owners who are tenants in Redmond Town Center to find out how they have risen to the challenges posed by the pandemic over the past few months. From pivoting operations online to redesigning spaces to accommodate new health and safety guidelines to developing new service models in rapidly evolving circumstances, theirs are stories of determination, creative adaptation and conscientious service to community.
A family-owned bookstore serving the greater Eastside, Brick & Mortar Books was the brainchild of retired school librarian Tina Ullom, who wanted to open the independent bookstore to serve as a physical space where people could connect through story times, book clubs, author events and, of course, a shared love of books.
Just as the Ulloms (Tina operates Brick & Mortar Books with husband John, son Dan and daughter-in-law Heidi) were planning the store’s fourth anniversary celebration, they had to suspend operations in accordance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order. They quickly adapted by joining a collective of other independent bookstores on Bookshop to facilitate online sales, and moved Brick & Mortar’s book clubs to a Zoom format. Employees began working from home to fulfill online and telephone orders, and son Dan pitched in by doing daily deliveries to the community.
The store is open again at reduced capacity and with safety protocols in place, including a mask requirement for patrons and staff, curbside pickup, routine sanitizing practices and social distancing as the norm. Ullom says, “It’s very encouraging, and we love seeing all the kids who are coming in with a mask on — it’s adorable.”
Denise Ensign owns Kumon of Redmond, which offers supplemental reading and math instruction for kids. Luckily, during the three months Kumon was closed to in-person teaching, learning was not suspended; parents were able to pick up worksheets, and the Kumon staff continued to provide virtual tutoring support for students.
Now reopened for in-person instruction, the center has incorporated changes to be compliant with new health and safety regulations. Ensign says they have also rearranged the space to provide adequate social distancing and installed sneeze guards to protect learners and staff members, who also must wear masks at all times.
“It took a couple of weeks for them to get used to the new routine, but I think it’s been healthy for the kids mentally to be able to come back in and feel like life is normal again,” says Ensign. “I will also say that I think my parents are just as amazing as my students.”
Hazel Roos has owned and operated Paint Away! since 2004. The pottery-painting and glass-fusing studio was having a record year before COVID-19 crashed the party. “We decided to close on March 19, and that weekend we got right to work on our e-commerce platform,” says Roos. Once the state began allowing curbside service, the business was able to offer a pottery-to-go option, through which customers can order supplies online and collect them via contactless pickup.
The studio space isn’t large enough to safely conduct Paint Away’s popular camps, but Roos found a way. “Redmond Town Center was able to offer us a huge tent space where we could socially distance with acrylic guards,” say Roos. “We were able to sign up our camps to a successful number, and we were totally full throughout the summer.”
Now that the studio has reopened, customers can make a table reservation through the website or walk in. Safety protocols are in place to safeguard their health, including the mandatory wearing of masks, sanitizing procedures between customers, contactless payment and more.
Roos says she feels very supported by the community and has enjoyed being more hands-on in her business over the past few months. “I have to say that I’ve totally enjoyed coming back to my store.”
After opening in Redmond Town Center in August 2019, Goldfish Swim School was going along swimmingly — until the pandemic hit. But even during the closure, Goldfish still offered services to its members. “We actually offered what we call Goldfish at Home, which were exercise videos on a YouTube channel, to keep kiddos active during that time when we were just full of uncertainty and people were locked up at home,” says co-owner JJ Dalton, who operates Goldfish with his wife, Joette.
When the pool reopened in July, the couple had to get creative to provide the safest environment for preventing the spread of the coronavirus — without getting in the way of overall water safety.
Students go through a symptom checklist before each lesson, and everyone over the age of 3 is required to wear a mask when not in the water. Other safety precautions include touchless check-in, face shields for instructors and sanitizing protocols between lessons.
Perhaps the biggest change is that parents now get into the water with the beginning swimmers, as instructors use a doll to demonstrate techniques. “I think parents have really enjoyed spending time doing it, and seeing our teachers teach parents is very different from teaching children,” says Dalton.
Through all the strains of the pandemic, it’s become clearer than ever that in both good times and bad, family-friendly businesses are our community lifelines.