Deemed 'non-essential,' local businesses reinvent themselves to stay afloat

Skye Kinkade
Sportsmen's Den employee Gavin Tobin presses a design on a t-shirt while the store is closed to the public. John Kennedy said he's doing whatever he can within the constraints of the governor's stay-at-home order to keep his Mount Shasta business afloat, including still-screen printing, embroidery, decoration, promotional materials and trophies.

Although her business has been deemed, for the most part, non-essential, Weed’s Patc Dawson said Dawson Wreath Barn is essential to her livelihood.

Like many other small business owners in Siskiyou County, Dawson is struggling to reinvent her business to stay afloat while the COVID-19 pandemic forces her to keep her retail store closed.

Small businesses in the U.S. employ nearly 60 million people, and 57 million are self-employed independent contractors, gig workers, temporary and part-time workers who must now find creative ways to adjust in a time of crisis.

“I’m trying to figure out what I am going to be doing moving forward to make my business work,” said John Kennedy Jr., owner of Sportsmen’s Den in Mount Shasta.

Although his doors are locked and some of his staff has been laid off, work continues inside the store. Kennedy is offering still-screen printing, embroidery, decoration, promotional materials and trophies.

“Moving forward (because I get the feeling they are going to continue with the non-essential business closure) I will be doing curbside pickup,” Kennedy said. “I get calls on a daily basis for shoes, apparel, sporting goods equipment but am required to keep my doors shut.”

Kennedy said his plan is to field calls, send mobile photos of the items he has available, and let the customer make their selections that way. Then he will package them up to deliver curbside.

“I am also planning to expand my customer base by really marketing to other businesses,” Kennedy said. “Most people think of us for sports, but we can screen print, embroider or decorate items for any industry.”

Kendra Bainbridge, owner of Raven Tree Wild Bird & Nature Shop in Mount Shasta has been offering curbside delivery of products similar to Kennedy.

Customers can order and have their products delivered curbside. They’re also welcome to explore the store on Facebook with a 3-D tool to pick gifts. She’s willing to take photos and videos and send prices over the phone to help customers select what they’d like to purchase.

Dawson owns three businesses under one roof in Weed, including Dawson Wreath Barn, a flower shop and a gift shop that caters to tourists visiting the town of Weed. Her business has been devastated by the pandemic. She’s lost approximately $12,000 over the past months because of canceled weddings, funerals, graduations and prom.

“It’s been awful,” said Dawson, being such a social person working in an empty store. All her orders are being taken over the phone or online. She’s had no face-to-face contact with her beloved customers, instead delivering arrangements and wreaths to porches or offering curbside pickup.

“I’ve done all I can to keep my head above water,” Dawson said. She hopes that Mother’s Day will be a success, since people may not be able to visit their mothers due to the pandemic, but will still want to make them feel special.

Dawson said she’s careful to follow all regulations but said she needs to continue business in some capacity. She said the community has been very supportive.

Fellow florist and gift shop owner Jamie Wright is also working to keep Petals Flower Shop open in Mount Shasta while doing her best to follow social distancing guidelines.

She is still making arrangements and does deliveries or curbside pickup. No one has visited her shop since the stay at home order went into effect, but Wright said she “needs to work.”

“Being called ‘non-essential’ is rough,” said BlueWolfe Boutique owner FinaNoël Wolfe. She’s used the extra time while her thrift and consignment store is closed to launch her business website. She’s also taking the opportunity to switch out seasons – a big chore that’s usually accomplished between customers when the store is open – at a leisurely pace.

Wolfe has offered to mail clothing locally, or provide doorstep dropoff, but because she is a resale store and all items are unique, shopping at her boutique is a tactile and personal experience that’s hard to duplicate from afar.

To keep some income trickling in, Wolfe is offering gift certificates that people can buy now and use later, when the stay-at-home order is lifted. She’s charging $50 for a gift certificate that’s worth $75, so people will be getting a deal.

When people are once again able to shop, Wolfe said it will “literally be a whole new store.”

Scott Rodriguez, owner of Stoneway Crossfit in Mount Shasta, has changed the way he supports his members. While some training has taken place outdoors, where social distancing guidelines can be followed, much of Rodriguez’s business over the past six weeks has been accomplished online.

Virtual classes are offered six days a week, in the morning and evening, he said.

In addition, he’s begun renting gym equipment to members.

“My goal is to support everyone in their goals and lifestyles,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve just had to adjust how I serve our members.”

Rodriguez said the virtual world is “a game changer” for him, and he’s realized that coaching is just as effective online as it is in person.

“This has really opened my eyes that I can provide a service to my community and clients ... in a new way,” Rodriguez said, both in Siskiyou County and in other areas.

Although his business is food production and therefore considered “critical infrastructure,” Dunsmuir’s David Edmondson said it’s difficult for small businesses like Salt and Savour to access help offered through programs like the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, despite his best efforts.

“Farmers markets made up 60% of my revenue last year and that has suddenly dropped dramatically,” said Edmondson, who crafts award winning organic sauerkraut.

“The good news for me is that store sales have increased and I’ve picked up some new store accounts. I need a lot more to make up for the losses but am making progress,” Edmondson said.

* All our coverage of coronavirus is being provided free for our readers. Please consider supporting local journalism by calling our office at (530) 842-5777.