I visited my favorite Pioneer Square Teriyaki place two days ago around noon. Normally there would be a long line of customers waiting to order at the counter and roughly 40 people eating lunch. I saw less than a handful.
COVID-19 is already having a profound impact on our local businesses and non-tech workforce in Seattle.
Workplace closures have left Seattle devoid of people who normally would be eating at restaurants and buying from local stores. After seeing a 90% drop in his business over recent weeks, Tom Douglas announced he would temporarily close 12 of his 13 restaurants and lay off hundreds of workers.
This is just the beginning.
As many of us work from home, the local businesses that make Seattle Seattle are seeing a catastrophic decline in sales. Many local business owners cannot survive a prolonged coronavirus winter. I was surprised when I visited Fresh Chalk, a Seattle-based business recommendations site, to see the large number of businesses that have temporarily closed or modified their service. Restaurant servers, stadium employees, actors, baristas, retail workers and more are losing their jobs or already seeing a cutback in wages.
An empty downtown Seattle means those who live paycheck-to-paycheck may need to decide between groceries and rent.
The reality is that in doing the right thing by staying home, we may decimate the city we love.
What can we do? What should we do?
1. Buy local if you can. A local entrepreneur/angel investor told me that he and his spouse are trying to eat at downtown and local restaurants when they can. If they choose to stay home, they request delivery from their favorite Seattle and neighborhood restaurants. Check out what Canlis is now doing, shutting down its dining room and going local to keep its employees working! [UPDATE March 16, 2020: With Washington state mandating the temporary shutdown of all in-person dining at restaurants and bars as of today, consider take-out and home delivery options from the same places you might have been visiting.]
2. Purchase gift certificates from your favorite restaurants. Another Seattleite said he is pre-buying gift certificates from his go-to restaurants to try to help out. One tech CEO is going even further, rallying his fellow employees to pre-purchase as a large group gift cards to lunch spots where they normally would be eating.
3. Consider donating your pre-purchased tickets. Instead of asking for a refund, one colleague said she is donating the purchase price of her tickets to the theater plays she was going to attend downtown.
4. Donate/volunteer at local food and blood banks. Our food banks are already experiencing shortages in food and volunteers. As jobs disappear, these food banks will see a dramatic uptick in requests in the coming weeks. Northwest Harvest distributes supplies to many food banks statewide. I donate to the JFS food bank. Blood banks also need blood, donations, and volunteers during this vital time.
5. Let’s commit fully to stopping the spread of this virus and then get back to work. Preventing the exponential growth of this virus needs to be our first priority. Working from home, social distancing, and canceling large events are rational, thoughtful decisions for public health reasons. But I have heard many tech friends say that working from home is now going to become the New Normal. I hope not. The consequences to our city and society of that change would be devastating and depressing. Once health experts advise us that we have turned the corner and preventative testing becomes widely available, let’s head back downtown.
I am sure many of you have heard of or are considering even better ideas about small steps we can take to help our great city. Please share them with your friends and on social media. We will get through this difficult time, and Seattle will continue to be the best place in the world to live. In the coming weeks, local Seattle businesses may just need us to show a little extra love and support.