Businesses work to stay afloat during COVID

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

When customers ask local business owners how they’re doing, a typical response is, “Oh, you know, getting creative. We’re staying afloat.”
But what’s spinning through their head may be, “I haven’t paid myself in three months, I’m trying to make payroll, I might not make my lease.”
That’s what Chrystal Hart-Meeker of Xtreme Graphyx explained when talking about her role in trying to save local businesses.
“Those are all the underlying things that they’re really saying. But they’re just putting on a smile for people,” she said.
Businesses and supporters of the local economy are working together to encourage sales at Lebanon businesses in order to help them survive during the pandemic.
One way to achieve this is to build consumer awareness about the urgency to buy local, and that’s what the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce and The Gillott Home Team, Keller Williams Realty Mid-Willamette are doing by joining Xtreme Graphx’s OregonTshirtFundraiser.com project.

“SAVE LEBANON” signs pop up in front of businesses that participate in a local campaign to encourage shoppers to buy local.

Meeker started the fundraiser by selling “save local” shirts, hats and hoodies. When someone buys a product, they can choose which business they want $15 of their purchase to be donated to. Businesses on the list can buy signage from Xtreme Graphyx to promote the fundraiser and encourage people to shop local.
The fundraiser started in Albany, but Gillott Realty joined in by offering to sponsor the cost of the signs for Lebanon businesses, and the Lebanon Chamber is helping to rally the support, said Rebecca Grizzle, executive director at the chamber.
“I just want to keep it as simple as possible, and just remind people to go shop local,” she said. “Just because we’re in a freeze doesn’t mean that local retail businesses aren’t open. They need you. Get off Amazon. Close your computer and go downtown, or go some place and find local retailers to fulfill Christmas. We’re just doing what we can to remind people of that.”

‘Save Lebanon Now’ Goes Public

A Facebook page called “Save Lebanon Now” was opened to promote the effort, and prizes are being lined up to encourage patronage.
Each Lebanon business that signs up with the fundraiser is asked to donate something for a “massive” grand prize drawing, Grizzle said. Each of those businesses are responsible for determining how they will gather entries for the drawing, which will later be pooled together and drawn some time around the New Year.
Grizzle is also working on an idea for weekly raffle opportunities.
“We’re just gonna try and make it fun,” she said.

Small Businesses Get Creative

BARBECUE SPECIALIST Christina Poteet, of J&C BBQ, stands in the new retail space at her restaurant. Poteet partnered with multiple small businesses to provide Lebanon with quality barbecue supplies.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s small business community is finding its own ways to keep going.
“It’s been a stressful year. It really, really has,” said Christina Poteet, owner of J&C BBQ. “I would have never in a million years thought we would have ever had to deal with something like this. But I’m one of millions of business owners that are in the same boat, trying to just keep going.”
Her restaurant and catering business had to adapt to new rules and regulations due to COVID, Poteet said. She offers takeout services, like most other restaurants in town, and continues to serve catered events by delivering individual boxed servings.
But Poteet started looking at her banquet room, which used to host weekly events, and realized it was costing her money.
“When you’re in business, every square foot of your building that you pay a lease on, you need to have some type of a revenue or return on that, and we haven’t made any money,” she said.
After doing some research, Poteet realized the closest barbecue supply house was in Sherwood, near Portland, so she determined to turn her banquet room into a retail outlet for barbecue aficionados, featuring sauces, rubs and barbecuing tools from small businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“I want people to be able to expand on their barbecue skills, and this is kind of the way of doing it, plus utilizing the space that we do have,” she said.
After only a week of being open, Poteet was already seeing a lot of traffic come through, she said.

Shannon Miller started offering $25 dinner meals as a means to bring in revenue while her dine-in service is shut down.

Shannon Miller, owner of Serendipity Cafe & Tea, also opened a retail space, and customized her food takeout. Just inside her doorway is a corner that offers teapots and fresh tea leaves, which has boosted her income, she said.
Miller also began designing a daily dinner option. Each morning, she plans a $25 meal for four and posts it on social media. Consumers order ahead and pick it up in the late afternoon.
All they have to do is reheat it when the family is ready to eat, she said. The momentum for this idea is picking up speed.
In February, she plans to open a new tea room down the block from Serendipity, selling tea and tea accessories, and hosting adult tea parties.
“I guess the moral of the story right now is if you wanna stay in business, you have to diversify. You’ve just gotta keep coming up with ways to get people to come in,” Miller said.

Amber Moon Boutique brought props and a pony to attract potential customers while offering a fun way to celebrate the holiday season.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Solbert

Jennifer Solberg, owner of Amber Moon Boutique, did just that.
One of her ideas for creative income was to bring holiday props and her sister’s pony to the store for photo shoots.
Solberg’s daughter opened the store less than a year ago, and recently stepped away from it to start a photography business, Taylor Adkins Photography. That worked out well for Solberg, who lost her job due to COVID, so she was able to take over the store.
In addition to selling thrift and consignment, Solberg has added several vendors who provide handmade gifts, creams, bee products, soaps, jewelry and other items. She also hosts the “mushroom people,” as she likes to call them.
“They’re huge right now for us,” she said.
Formally known as Trailbridge Farms, the “mushroom people” gained a following when they sold their products in the Rife’s parking lot this summer, Solberg explained. She also suggested they try to sell at Let it Bead and Collette Bakery & Bistro.
She believes cross-pollinating local businesses is a good way to sell and to support.
“I’m all about us supporting each other,” Solberg said. “I’m so excited for how this is working out.”
Ira Whitaker, owner of Let it Bead, also sells some of Solberg’s handmade soaps, deodorants and candles.
At the beginning of COVID, Whitaker had to shut her doors and find ways to sell her beading supplies and gemstones through social media and curbside pickup.
“I have wonderful customers who were very supportive and didn’t want to see me close, so they helped keep me open,” Whitaker said.
Now she stays fairly steady, and tries to manage distant learning with her daughter while also running the store.
“It’s been a challenge trying to find the balance of teaching half of my workday and then running the store, helping people in between,” she said. “It’s just about all I can do just to get through my day and keep going.”

MARLA’S DECOR, located in the back room of Collette’s Bakery & Bistro, hosts a variety of vendors to entice holiday shoppers. Lebanon businesses are learning to work together to encourage shoppers to buy local during the pandemic, which is causing many businesses statewide to shut down.

At Collette’s, the French bistro is hosting Marla’s Decor in its large back room for the holiday season. During business hours, the community can shop Christmas and vintage items, holiday gifts, as well as multiple vendors including Norwex, Color Street, and 2T’s Bees.
Marla Borntrager finds that customers who stop in at the bistro will browse her items, but also those who come to see her are more likely to buy a pastry from Collette’s, she said.
Only a select handful of businesses seem to have done better since March.

Kristina Breshears, executive director at Lebanon Area Habitat for Humanity, said they began receiving a lot more donations because no one else was taking them, and more customers are coming in because they’re “stuck at home” and are remodeling.
Habitat’s sales floor is now too small to hold everything, so they began a capital campaign to buy a larger space.
Spencer Costello, manager at Premiere Flooring, said they lost business at retirement homes for the time being, but “there’s been a lot of movement in new real estate sales and rentals, and that’s really bumped us back up.”

Each Lebanon business’ story is different in its own way, but the plot is the same: they have to adapt to the changes COVID has brought on in the economy.
Hairdressers have to block out one appointment at a time to allow for advanced cleaning, food services can only offer takeout, movie theaters have to resort to selling concessions and setting up a GoFundMe, and retail spaces have to manage distancing requirements.
But the community is stepping up to support their neighbors.
“We wanted it to be where we are spreading the awareness and the word about the fact that these businesses need our help. Like, they are dying,” Meeker said.
Poteet noted that there are people who want to support local, but they need to be able to find ways to do it.

Customers Respond

LINN LANES BOWLING employees deliver curbside pickup for patrons who order from the restaurant’s menu. Current restrictions prevent the bowling alley from allowing people to bowl, so selling food is its only source of income right now.

Some customers have even come from out of town to spend their money in Lebanon.
Andy and Laura Schmidt drove from Salem last week to buy a burger at Linn Lanes. They ate their meal in the parking lot.
Andy hosts bowling tournaments, so he makes an effort to drive to each bowling alley whether they can bowl or not, he said.
“The bowling community has been very hard hit by this,” he said. “So when a place is open, we want to make sure that we (stop by), even if it’s just for food.”
Solberg lost two jobs due to COVID, but Amber Moon Boutique fulfills her career dream, she said. Having multiple vendors in her store is fun, but it’s also a nod of support to other local sellers as well as a way to keep the business going.
“We’re here, and I don’t plan to go down lightly,” Solberg said. “I do feel like the odds are stacked, but I feel like if I can survive this here, I can survive anything.”