Small businesses use curbside service to stay afloat during statewide closure of social gathering places

TACOMA - Small businesses are scrambling to come up with a plan to stay afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak. Many store owners said they are worried after Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide mandate to close social gathering places of 50 or more due to coronavirus concerns.

“I was in politics 24 years, so I understand government’s got to take a stance. I think they’re taking a good stance. They’re concerned about the people, we’re concerned about the people,” said Joe Stortini, owner of Joeseppi’s Italian Restaurant in Tacoma.

Several restaurants and shops will be relying on take-out and delivery orders during the mandate. Some owners said they fear the curbside service may not be enough to keep their doors open. While others said it’s their only option left to make some money to pay the bills and their staff.

“I have a famous motto—10 percent of life is what happens, 90 percent is how you react to it. And here’s a good example of right now. We’re trying to react in a very positive way,” said Stortini.

Joeseppi’s is known for its old family recipes, but soon they’ll try something new with curbside service. Stortini said he hopes it will help them keep the lights on during the statewide closure of social gathering places due to coronavirus concerns.

“We’ll try to employ as many people as we can, but like any other business, I would assume that most of them will go on the unemployment list,” said Stortini.

Unemployment is a possibility Joeseppi’s head chef Dwaye Wiggins said he didn’t see coming.

“Definitely has been running through my mind. But as of right now I’m going to make sure I do whatever I can for Joe and the business,” said Wiggins.

Allix Zemcik, owner of Hello Cupcake in Tacoma, is also turning to take-out and delivery to keep the doors open. However, with minimal customers she said cutting staff hours is business, not personal.

“It’s hard being small because you have that personal knowledge and relationship with each employee. So, you can really see the impact of it but at the same time have to do what you have to do for the business so that they have somewhere to come back to when this is all over,” said Zemcik.

In the meantime, some customers are doing what they can to bring some money into the local shops.

“I figured if I’m going to order in, I can take my order home, make sure that I have washed my hands really well when I get there and hopefully still help them get through,” said Marisa Petrich, who bought lunch at Pho Thanks Brother in Tacoma. “I know that if we’re relying on individuals to do things that might put them at risk in order to keep businesses open, that’s a really tough call. So, what I’m hoping is that local leaders help us come up with a solution to keep our businesses here after we’re not social distancing anymore.”

Getting through with curbside service only will be challenging, but Stortini said it’s worth a shot if it keeps the restaurant from closing.

“We’ll be here with a big smile and have that pasta ready for them,” said Stortini.