Waves of customers keep rolling in to tiny Leschi Market along Lake Washington, even though it was unexpectedly closed over the weekend for a coronavirus emergency deep cleaning. After offering sympathies to the co-owner, Yousef Shulman, many of the shoppers follow up with the same general sentiment.
“People keep saying ‘wow, I guess it’s real,’ ” Shulman told me as he worked the cash register Monday after the 72-year-old community grocery had reopened. “People are having a hard time believing that this virus is actually happening.”
Maybe you don’t really believe it until it hits someone you know.
That happened for me, and for countless more in central Seattle, when Shulman’s uncle, Steve Shulman, was admitted to Harborview and diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Steve Shulman, who has been kept under quarantine on a ventilator in Harborview’s intensive care unit, is a fixture at the family-owned store as well as a legend in the neighborhood. For his store’s old-fashioned butcher counter and plentiful wine aisle, for his good works, and for his habit of employing practically everybody’s teenage sons and daughters.
Shulman said his uncle tested positive on Friday after hurting his back in a fall at his Seward Park home. The X-rays on his back coincidentally discovered spots on his lungs, which have developed into what Shulman called “virus-caused pneumonia.”
“He’s stable but he hasn’t been able to breathe without assistance,” Shulman says.
The reaction to the news has been mostly reassuring as to how Seattleites may cope as this virus continues its spread through our communities.
The store decided Friday to be upfront about it all, immediately posting announcements on social media that there had been a case of the virus. The store closed and hired an outside company to “disinfect every surface,” Shulman says. It also posted the guidance of the health department — that store employees didn’t need to be tested but had to self-quarantine and get tested if they developed any symptoms.
Not exactly the types of announcements a business wants to be making to its customer base. Would the store be shunned?
“I didn’t know what to expect when we reopened,” Shulman says.
There was some suspicion on social media. But what the store got in real life was throngs of neighbors and shoppers — many of them stopping by to show solidarity for Steve Shulman, whose dad, Leonard Shulman, owned the store before him.
“Thank you all for being such a great heart-centered store,” read one of the many supportive comments on Facebook.
Steve Shulman, 67, is one of those people who knows everybody (I got to know him first for his wine recommendations, and second when he became a regular source of story tips for this column). He knows tons of local politicians and cops (he’s the co-founder of the Seattle Police Foundation), has served on many neighborhood groups and regularly donates store proceeds and wine tastings to charity. So the news that he’s in intensive care with COVID-19 instantly made this surreal coronavirus story hit home.
Other relatives of COVID-19 victims have said this creeping, unreal aspect to the pandemic — where people don’t really feel it’s happening — makes their hurt that much worse.
“I sit here wondering why people still think this is a hoax or fake news, it makes my heart sink as this nightmare is playing out real time,” wrote Vince Nguyen, of Seattle, about the process of watching his quarantined father decline rapidly from COVID-19, at Swedish Hospital. “Share this story for those who don’t believe this is real.”
Shulman said he can’t even get in to see his uncle due to the quarantine. So it’s like even the sickness of his own uncle is occurring in some alternate universe.
“When they go into his room, they’re in full hazmat suits, and that part of the hospital is on lockdown,” he said. “He’s been in for five days and I haven’t seen him at all. I now know how all those other families are feeling.”
This virus is confounding. It presents like a mild cold to some yet kills others. So people have been bashing the government because it’s cracking down far too much or for doing way too little.
I don’t know. My only advice is leave yourself some room to change your views. For that moment when the virus hits much closer to home for you.
Editor’s note: Steve Shulman, longtime grocer and community figure at Leschi Market along Lake Washington in Seattle, died Wednesday night from the effects of COVID-19, his family says.