With stay at home orders still in effect, small businesses throughout the state are struggling to survive. In Oregon City, a small town located about an hour from Forest Grove, two family-owned businesses have found creative ways to adapt to this new COVID reality.
Tory and Jessica Economou own Oregon City Records on Main Street. Before the arrival of coronavirus, their store would be filled with patrons flipping through vinyls and talking music, but when news of COVID began to break, they were quick to take action.
A week prior to Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s official shutdown order on March 23, Tory and Jessica decided to close their business to protect the public. “It kind of became apparent that we had a public responsibility to shut down,” Tory said. Upon this decision, they then had to quickly brainstorm ways to stay afloat.
“We needed to figure out a way to create a revenue stream and give people something to do when they’re hunkered down,” Tory said. They quickly came up with the idea of “Hunker Down” packages, a $10 collection of LPs and other media home delivered to those in the Portland area.
“It’s a unique time in history that we’re all living through, and we all do have a responsibility to care about one another in whatever capacity that is,” said Tory. “Plus we need a revenue stream—even if it’s a fraction of what it was before—to continue to have a business. It’s a way of doing that and being of service.”
A block away from Oregon City Records is White Rabbit, an independent bookstore owned by Danielle Walsh. She shares the building with her husband, Rolland’s, coffee shop, Black Ink. Like Oregon City Records, Black Ink / White Rabbit made the decision to close before Governor Kate Brown officially issued her executive order. And though many coffee shops are still operating with to-go service, Danielle and Rolland decided it would be too risky to continue that way.
“I live with my Mom and she’s 75, so we just didn’t feel it was worth the risk,” said Danielle. “We knew the last day we were open, we were just sort of too nervous to continue. But we were already brainstorming ways to try to stay alive.”
Though White Rabbit didn’t have much of an online presence ahead of the shutdown, Rolland’s day job in web developing came in handy when moving to adapt.
“I had kind of a skeleton website up, and our first goal was getting books up,” said Danielle. “[Rolland] helped me start the process of getting our book collections online and after that, it has been my family uploading the rest of our products.”
At the time of this writing, White Rabbit currently has over 2000 products listed on their website, all available for local home delivery.
Though Oregon City Records and White Rabbit have continued on with business in their own adapted ways, many other small businesses have already taken major hits due to the shutdown.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Danielle. “My friends are small business owners, and one by one, I’m seeing them not make it.”
Though the government has promised grants to businesses to try to help during this time of need, as Danielle says, many of them aren’t qualifying or are so far down the list, it may be a long time before they receive any aid. What’s more, many non-essential orders being placed through big online shippers like Amazon are putting more people in the warehouse industry at risk. Citing this, Danielle says that the best way for consumers to help their favorite small businesses is to buy local.
“Shopping local has some privilege to it,” Danielle says. “If people can’t shop local, I want them to take care of their families first. But if people have the ability to shop locally, if people are willing to buy your puzzles, your books, your things from me, it also relieves the shipping industry and it relieves the warehouse industry.”
Both Oregon City Records and White Rabbit also have been using their own businesses to help support others that are struggling in the community.
“[White Rabbit] purchases from over 250 small businesses and local artists,” Danielle said. “Every time money changes hands in this economy, we’re doing better. And so when I can purchase from these small vendors, it helps them make it and it helps me make it.”
White Rabbit has also been working to support families who are also struggling, selling face masks and hand sanitizer online. The business donates a face mask or hand sanitizer per every face mask or hand sanitizer purchased online. They are also offering free oatmeal from Bob’s Red Mill with the promise that those who order it will donate it to their local food bank.
“With [Oregon City Record’s] Hunker Down packages, we throw in menus from all of the local restaurants,” said Jessica. “We also have a list of all the open businesses and ways that they can be supported by our customers as well.”
“It’s pretty important to cross promote and let everybody know, this is your community. Your business community,” Tory added. “And you want it to be here when we open back up, when everything goes back to normal, whenever that may be. So do what you can to support.”