Over the past month, the classic video games that gave Waterland Arcade its name have been powered down. In place of the glowing pinball machines, the Des Moines arcade bar now boasts a vintage and collectibles boutique where retro toys and candy are sold.
Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the closure of game areas at restaurants until counties reach Phase 4, the final and least restrictive phase of the state’s COVID-19 approach. With this, as well as a new statewide restriction prohibiting bars from selling alcohol past 10 p.m., Waterland Arcade owner Jason Bliss estimates that his business has lost 80% of its revenue in the past month.
In search of a solution to keep his business afloat, Bliss began removing decorations from the arcade’s walls and selling them to customers. The store’s inventory also features collectible items and retro clothes found at thrift stores, eBay and from friends’ stores.
“We’re throwing a bunch of ideas at it to try to keep our customers interested and provide some of the services to our neighborhood,” he said.
In light of the new statewide regulations for reopening, Bliss has had to navigate requirements as a retail store and restaurant. His business has relied on a new toolkit offered by the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce that streamlines information for owners wanting to reopen while meeting statewide requirements.
Launched on Aug. 7, the chamber of commerce’s Southside Promise initiative provides businesses with tools and resources for addressing the economic impact of COVID-19. The initiative aims to promote “education and awareness that we are all in this together and that we need to make a promise to each other to keep each other safe and healthy” said Andrea Reay, president and CEO of Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber of commerce created the initiative because it was getting up to 15 calls a day from businesses requesting guidance on how to reopen. As a result, the Seattle Southside chamber applied for Tukwila’s lodging tax grant, which is offered to recipients with projects that bring tourism to the city.
“We felt it was innovative, because in the time of COVID it inspires safety and confidence to people who would visit the southside,” said De’Sean Quinn, Tukwila Council president.
The $50,000 grant was funded by Tukwila’s lodging taxes, which is a 1% charge on most overnight stays at hotels and motels in Tukwila. Quinn said the Southside Chamber of Commerce’s initiative was especially appealing since the city has seen a 26% decline in sales taxes compared to this time last year.
The toolkit includes a pre-opening checklist, guidance on making a plan, a reopening checklist for different types of business, and a list of the equipment or disinfecting supplies needed to safely reopen. Tips on implementing temperature checks, how to update policies and procedures and adapting common or shared work areas for safety are also included. The toolkit is free to any of its 430 active members in South King County, and so far about 40 businesses have accessed it.
The Southside Chamber of Commerce, which serves businesses in Burien, SeaTac, Tukwila, Normandy Park and Des Moines, has also hosted a webinar for establishments to deescalate tension when customers refuse to follow statewide guidelines, such as wearing a mask. The webinar offers training techniques that help staff identify body language, verbal or nonverbal cues that signal a situation may escalate. Prompts in the webinar ask how a person would naturally respond to an escalating situation and recommend ways to deescalate it.
Bliss said the toolkit has also come in handy when creating signs for his customers about the new regulations. A sign hanging in the bar area was created using a template in the toolkit, where he chose the guidelines his store was adopting and added his logo. It inspired him to create other COVID-19-related signs in his bar that include his own branding and designs.
Also included in the initiative is a start kit with face coverings, disposable masks and hand sanitizers. The chamber of commerce gave Bliss a couple of bags of sanitizers and masks, absorbing some of the costs for purchasing protective personal equipment.
“If a business is not able to operate safely, it closes,” Reay said.
So far the customers are enjoying the pivot at Bliss’ store, he said. Still, the store’s sales won’t cover all of the business’s costs and he expects to operate at a deficit until Phase 4.
Quinn, the Tukwila Council president, said that innovative partnerships between cities and businesses will have to generate income for the time being.
“We all have a responsibility to protect one another,” Quinn said.