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Some Seattle businesses close, others struggle amid social distancing measures

Measures to control the coronavirus outbreak continue to take a toll on local businesses

SEATTLE — Social distancing measures are having catastrophic impacts for some small businesses and restaurants in the Seattle area.

Amanda Chigbrow, owner of Spanish tapas restaurant Pintxo in Belltown, said they were forced to close the doors permanently this week, when it became apparent that the drastic dip in traffic was not ending any time soon.

“It’s awful, our dreams are being crushed, employees are out of a job,” she said.

She and her family have poured their lives into the business for 10 years. Now it hurts, but Chigbrow understands why people aren’t coming.

“Is it worth risking your life or the life of a loved one for a plate of bacon wrapped dates, or paella?” she said. “Absolutely not.”

Still, it doesn’t make closing any easier. Friday, she was cleaning inside the restaurant, stacking chairs on tables and taking candles and place settings away.

Even at this low moment Chigbrow is thinking about others in the same or similar situations. There are plenty. Chef Tom Douglas announced he was suspending operations due to slow business and social distancing guidelines.

Douglas said, "We are not able to work and pay our teams if there are no customers so we have decided to suspend operations. We hope to reopen as soon as these trying times have passed."

In Wallingford, at Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, founder and CEO Joe Fugere has decided to forgo his pay for now in order to make sure vendors and employees are paid. Belltown’s Local 360 also announced their permanent closure.

Amanda Gourlie and her husband Kyle own The Vet Chef food truck. Right now, they have nothing to do but sit at home with their kids in Bothell.

All the businesses that host their truck are shuttered this week, and for the foreseeable future.

The Gourlies were looking at opening a brick and mortar restaurant before the outbreak. They still hope to, but a wrench has been thrown in their plans.

“While we like to think we’re not in danger of closing permanently, with the unknown and the uncertainty of how long this is going to last, we just don’t know,” Gourlie said.

They worry about their own family – but also their staff. They’re covering wages right now for a couple weeks, but don’t know how long that’s sustainable without money coming in.

They plan to start selling their salsa online, and also asked supporters to buy giftcards and merch. But time will tell if their business rebounds.

Seattle Mayor Durkan announced an initial recovery package and small business recovery task force this week to help save some businesses impacted by the outbreak. 

The city has also allocated a $1.5 million fund to invest in small business impacted by the outbreak.

The city has expanded its $10,000 grant program to stabilize small businesses to help those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

But the Gourlies wonder about the larger impact all this social distancing will have long term as the closed businesses pile up.

“How do you adjust, how do you make those changes and will those restaurants reopen after? No one knows,” she said

That’s also the buzz in Chigbrow’s circle of friends, which of their restaurants will survive?

“It’s all going to be so different.I don’t know where we’ll eat,” she said.

“Some of our customers have been dining with us for 10 years,” she said. “That’s a long time, like we’ve seen them grow together as couples, get married, have children and they always come back here. I think those are relationships we’ll miss.”

Chigbrow thinks the landscape in Seattle will be very different after the coronavirus and that other U.S. communities may soon feel the same.

“If this is just in Seattle, what’s going to happen as this virus rolls through our country?” she wondered.

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