MOUNT VERNON — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, two new breweries have opened their doors, a media company has expanded into a downtown storefront, and a new flooring and cabinetry showroom is getting ready to open.

This is just some of the new business activity happening in downtown Mount Vernon amid COVID-19.

Ellen Gamson, executive director of the Mount Vernon Downtown Association, said the new businesses have adjusted to a new normal, the same as existing businesses have done.

“Folks took a deep breath, marshaled their resources, adjusted as needed and put one foot in front of the other,” she said.

In January, cousins Katie King and Brooke Bosserman bought the old Empire Ale House space on First Street, where they planned to open Temperate Habits Brewing Company.

After a brief delay because of a state-mandated shutdown of nonessential construction, the brewery finished its remodel and opened this month.

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King said as long as Skagit County remains in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan, the business can be viable. In Phase 2, restaurants are limited to 50% capacity.

“Luckily we have a really large space, so the 50% (rule) wouldn’t really influence us in terms of layout,” she said. “So far (business) is really good, we have had a steady influx of people and a lot of return customers.”

King said both she and Bosserman are pharmacists and started brewing beer as a way to combine their passion for creativity with their science backgrounds.

Another downtown brewery, District Brewing, opened the day before restaurants had to close their dining rooms in March. Because of that, the business has had to adapt since day one, first as a takeout business and now at half capacity.

Co-owner Mark Shintaffer said he has learned to look more closely at what the business spends its money on, and take extra care of his employees, such as enforcing the wearing of masks in the restaurant.

He said sliding back into Phase 1 would be a hardship, especially because he would have to lay off employees again.

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“It seems like it could be very hard to go backwards,” he said.

A retail store, Shop Habibi, which is run by the nonprofit Voices of the Children, reopened in a permanent space in July after a pop-up in November and December, said Aaron Wagner, the nonprofit’s founder.

He said business has been difficult because not a lot of people are out shopping, but he is glad to have the doors open to share the nonprofit’s mission.

Voices of the Children works to connect kids throughout the world through collaborative arts projects, and works mostly with those in Jordan and refugee populations, Wagner said.

He said COVID-19 has put those projects on hold.

“When we did open, it was more out of necessity for my sanity than for anything else,” he said. “I needed something to work on and move forward.”

The boutique sells products handmade by women in Guatemala, Mexico and Kenya.

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While COVID-19 has hurt restaurants and retail, it has boosted other industries.

Pinecone, a flooring and cabinetry showroom focused on sustainable materials, plans to open downtown at the end of September.

Business partners Rich Callison and Angela Nelson said COVID-19 has driven up demand for housing outside of cities as well as interest in home improvement projects.

“The building industry is actually booming right now, especially in this area,” Callison said. “We really believe we are in the right place at the right time.”

Also doing well is TransMedia Vision, a media and commutations firm run by John Bowey. Bowey relocated the business to a long-vacant downtown storefront three weeks ago.

He said demand is up for videos and virtual content. He is producing livestreamed events for organizations such as the United Way of Skagit County and the Skagit River Poetry Foundation, as well as educational videos for the Skagit County Population Health Trust and the county’s COVID-19 awareness series.

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He has also started a new video talk show featuring topics ranging from social issues to entertainment.

“(The business) has grown quite a bit,” Bowey said.

Gamson said she has received inquiries from others interested in downtown business opportunities. She said it’s not uncommon to see new businesses pop up during an economic downturn.

“Folks get creative about making their own jobs,” she said.

Gamson said she only knows of one downtown business, Mount Vernon Cafe & Lounge, that has closed permanently.

Also planning to open downtown is Kalahi Martial Arts Academy, which was forced to relocate when the Cascade Mall closed permanently at the end of June.

Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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