Stay-at-home orders impact local businesses

Mitchell Roland, Senior Reporter

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Ellensburg businesses are learning to adjust to a new reality.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home proclamation for the state on March 23 in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Under the proclamation, all nonessential businesses must temporarily close unless their employees can work remotely.

Restaurants in the state have been closed since March 15, when Gov. Inslee announced the temporary shutdown of bars and dine-in restaurants.

Zoe Zhuo, the owner of Oyama Japanese Steak House, said the shutdown is having a major impact on her restaurant.

“We’ve been closed for two weeks. There’s no income. This is our livelihood right here,” she said. “You feel lucky to own your own business until a situation like this.”

Zhou said she worries about more than just the financial impact of the virus. Zhou said an Oyama employee had rocks thrown at them while grocery shopping and were told to “go home.”

“It scares me,” she said. “We have an additional concern on top of the virus.” 

Zhuo said that the safety of her employees is most important during the pandemic.

“The virus does not pick race,” she said.

Zhuo said Oyama closed the day Gov. Inslee banned dining in at restaurants. While Gov. Inslee’s declaration still allows takeout and delivery, Zhou said closing altogether was easier.

Zhou said she’s heard restaurant owners who remained open for takeout have had little business, meaning it might not be financially worth it to partially reopen. If the ban on dine-in continues, Zhou said she will have to consider all options, including reopening for takeout.

Since the closure began, Oyama’s phones have rung often, which Zhou said gives her hope that “[they] might have some business there if [they] end up coming back.”

Molly Jones, the executive director of the Ellensburg Downtown Association, said this is uncharted territory for business owners.

“We are all going through this for the very first time, so the impacts will be seen as we move forward,” she said. “Obviously, the closing of a small business has immediate impacts on the business owner’s livelihood, as well as the staff.”

Jones said CWU students leaving will have a large impact on Ellensburg businesses.

“Students are an important part of our local economy as they shop and dine downtown, so we understand that with them being home or unable to venture out, we will see the sales they normally drive struggle to become a reality this year,” she said.

Jones recommended people shop online, order takeout and purchase gift cards as ways to support businesses currently closed.

“Share a throwback picture of you at that location to promote them, or let them know you appreciate them with a nice message,” she said.

Jones said the more people follow the stay at home order, the quicker businesses can reopen.

“We need everyone who can stay home, to stay home so we can get back to business sooner,” Jones said.

The uncertainty in the situation is what worries Zhou.

“It’s scary at this point,” she said. “Not knowing when we can come back is the big issue right now.”

Even if Oyama were to reopen during spring quarter, Zhou said with less students, they would be without a large portion of their customer base.

“A lot of my clientele are the students and professors and parents visiting,” Zhou said. “There’s a big difference with students being gone.”