Member Spotlights

GSBA members share how COVID-19 has impacted their business with Rep. Rick Larsen

by Ilona Lohrey (She/her), GSBA VP of Membership & Programs
| Nov 02, 2020

On a very frosty October morning, I set out on a small business tour in Snohomish County with Congressman Rick Larsen (WA-02) who wanted to connect and hear from GSBA members about the impact COVID-19 has had on their operations.

Gladys Gillis and Julie KeimFirst stop at 9:00 AM was with Gladys Gillis, owner of Starline Luxury Coaches and Julie Keim, owner of Compass Courses Maritime Training at their home in Mukilteo. Congressman Rick Larsen was accompanied by his assistant Lindsey Webb. All social distancing and safety protocols were rigorously followed.

We met on the patio of Gladys and Julie's home with a beautiful view of Puget Sound in a chilly 48 degrees. Gladys shared that her business is down 80% of its original revenues and that she had to close four out of seven locations. Bus ridership came to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19. Ridership has still not returned, even though physical barriers were installed from shoulder height to the ceiling, air on buses are cycled every two minutes, and 20% new air is introduced every air cycle. In her continuing quest to bring back ridership and keep people safe, her business uses Xmicrobe chemicals every 30 days as a long-term COVID-19 killing coating, and a disinfectant called FreshStart between every group of riders. Both chemicals are also sprayed on the air filters on each bus.

The bus industry is the second largest transportation industry following air travel. However, the industry doesn't have standardized cleaning protocols across the board in each State. The United Motorcoach Association is desperately looking to get the CERTS Act approved to ensure survival of the industry. Currently, 80% of the motorcoach workforce has been laid-off across the country. Starline had to drastically cut employees and is now operating with only 12 staff members. Starline has 110 busses in operation, of which some still have payments due. The OCC and banks need to continue working with the motorcoach industry through at least the end of 2021 and extend and preserve credit lines and loans. Gladys doesn't see a recovery for Starline until at least 2022. 2021 will be the true test of survival. "There is no miracle or magic event that happens on January 1, 2021, and everything is great again. It's a long way to recovery," said Gladys.

Julie Keim is the owner of Compass Courses Maritime Training, one of only a handful of maritime training facilities in Washington State. Julie's company is the only woman-owned company in Washington's maritime industry. She has been operating at a loss for the past six months. Her business is mainly hands-on classroom and in-person training only. This curriculum doesn't translate well to virtual classes. She doesn't see an uptick in business any time soon.

Our next stop was at All Care Pet Hospital with owners John Wong and Greg CombsJohn Wong 1 in Mukilteo. John explained that business has been down 15% while at the same time, they had to increase staff to accommodate the new COVID-19 safety protocols. Pet owners could no longer bring their pets into the clinic. A technician has to answer the phone when the client arrives, then walk out to the car and do the pet intake outside. Conversations between pet owners, doctor, and technicians are all done by phone, which adds time to the process. John and Greg are currently dealing with an employee who has COVID-19 symptoms, and even though they got tested right away, their test result is still not available after five days of waiting. This puts a burden on the clinic and their entire team. Future Boeing layoffs will continue to adversely affect their clinic and surrounding small businesses in Mukilteo. They are hoping for an effective vaccine to come on the market soon.

Our third and last stop was with David Brown, owner of Elements Massage in Lynnwood

His business had to shut down on March 16 when the statewide retail regulations were put in place, and it was the right thing to do to slow the spread. He luckily encouraged his 29 employees to immediately apply for unemployment, since no one knew the extent and duration of the closure. After the initial chaos, the state changed massage businesses to be regulated under the health provider guidelines, which allowed Elements Massage to re-open in Phase 2.

David has seen a 50% drop in future bookings. In the last five months, his business has provided almost 5,000 massage services without any incidents of infection. Elements Massage has always followed disinfection and clean environment guidelines since it first opened its doors. Although David received a PPP loan, he is afraid to touch the funds because he's unsure of what the forgiveness rules truly will look like. David says that the PPP loan should be what Congress originally passed. He feels lucky that Elements Massage has already been a well-capitalized business, having opened seven years ago.

Congressman Rick Larsen listened and empathized with all of the business owners. He told GSBA members that he'll take a closer look at the CERTS Act and push for more capital for small businesses, as well as continued deferment of bank loans through 2021. 

GSBA thanks Rep. Larsen and Lindsey Webb for taking the time during such difficult circumstances to meet with GSBA members, hear their stories first-hand, and for continuing to advocate for small businesses in D.C.