‘We’re eking by’: Small businesses surviving one month into battle against COVID-19 in Spokane Co.

SPOKANE, Wash. — It has been exactly one month since COVID-19 officially hit Spokane County, effectively changing the lives of hundreds of local business owners, who still have no idea when things will get back to normal.

Boots Bakery and Lounge has turned to takeout, delivery and wholesale to pay the bills. Owner Alison Collins was forced to watch her staff dwindle from 17 down to four — including her husband and their two kids.

“Well, in a nutshell, it sucks,” Collins says.  “Are we making money? No. Are we able to pay our bills? We’re eking by… and I don’t think there’s any end in sight anytime soon.”

Collins considers every week she treads water a win, but she does not know how much longer she can keep it up.

“It’s super stressful, just because my goal is to have this business open after it’s all said and done but with each passing week, I’m like, ‘when is that gonna be?’,” she says. “The energy and the heart of this place is the bustle of it and seeing people and people having meetings here and all of that and I can’t see that happening again.”

Collins has watched Boots Bakery and Lounge grow over the last eight years, so just imagine running a new business right now.

Cosmic Cowboy Grill opened its new location in River Park Square mid-February. One month later, the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Spokane County. ‘Chief wrangler’ Steve Eller says he closed up shop shortly after that.

“I was in the real estate business in 9/11, 2008, those were trying times. I guess they got me limbered up for this,” Eller says.  “We had to furlough everybody and that was heartbreaking because these are hardworking people that had their lives upended through no fault of their own.”

Eller tells 4 News Now the restaurant was able to bring back 19 of its 26 original employees with a $70,000 grant from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

“Two months of payroll in any sort of environment is awesome but two months of payroll in this pandemic crisis is a lifesaver,” he says. “It’s probably not gonna be the flip of a switch where suddenly the sun bursts forth and we all go back to doing what we were doing in February, so it’s gonna be a longer slog.”

Cosmic Cowboy Grill will reopen its downtown location Thursday with delivery and to-go orders, in hopes of making enough to bring back its last seven employees.

At this point, Watts 1903 manager Kelsey Strom would be happy to hire back any of her employees. She says 24 of 28 original employees were laid off after Gov. Inslee’s stay home order went into effect.

“As far as loans and unemployment, you know, everyone’s just kind of playing the waiting game,” she says.

Strom says staff is delivering food and creating takeout kits to stay afloat, but she knows that can only last so long.

“If you have a favorite local restaurant, you may not get to eat there anymore if they don’t get the support they need,” she says.

For a complete list of open local businesses across the Inland Northwest, click here.