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Local business owners create Facebook group to support one another

A nearly empty dining area near where food trucks park at a downtown Seattle park. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

The business community around the nation and especially in the Puget Sound, the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, has taken a massive hit.

With the state ordering all restaurant dining rooms, bars, theatres, museums, hair and nail salons, barbers, gyms, and art galleries to close — and with the people who might shop at the retail stores remaining that are open being advised to stay home — commerce has screeched to a halt.

“About a week and a half ago, when this all started, we started seeing this tsunami coming at us,” said Bob Bagga, who founded BizX. “Business was down, in some cases 80 to 90 percent, businesses were closing, were dropping like flies.”

Bagga compared the current situation to someone hitting a giant pause button for the entire economy.

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“We’ve all had our backs up against the wall as entrepreneurs — every single one of us, there was a time,” he said to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “But this is unprecedented, where everybody is in it together. And what does this mean? Business will stop.”

He contacted his friend Aaron Blank, CEO of the Fearey Group, to brainstorm a way to bring people together and save local restaurants, shops, and services.

“We’ve got to get together to create a common voice, a place where we can share information and be able to have  a voice at the table,” Bagga said.

Within minutes, the two had created a Facebook group called “CORONA: Seattle Business Owners Fight Back!”

“A lot of businesses — 80 percent of the businesses around us, our friends and partners in the community — are all closing shop,” Blank said. “They don’t know what to do, there are no answers. What do they do with their employees, what do they do with their doors, can they pay their leases?”

Through the page, business owners can give one another ideas and advice about strategies that have worked for them. They can also find ways to give one another their business, even if this cannot be done in person.

“We are going to be able to support each other, both with information, as well as being able to patronize each other, as well as being able to weather the storm,” Bagga said. “And so what we want to accomplish is, the more that we can share with each other, the more that we can learn from each other, the situation is just changing so quickly that that’s the only thing we can do.”

The result is that business owners have been able to find creative ways to drum up commerce, even during a time when people are asked to stay home. For example, Blank approached a gym owner who was forced to close his doors after the statewide order for recreational facilities to close for two weeks. Blank asked the gym owner to hold online yoga classes for his own employees at the Fearey Group.

Bagga pointed to Canlis, which “overnight, [took] this fine-dining restaurant and turned it into take-out.”

“These conversations that are happening to help business owners think differently, think quickly, think nimbly — those are all important elements that, if you want to succeed right now, need to be taken advantage of,” Blank said.

The Facebook page gained a thumbs-up from Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday, when he tweeted out a laudatory message.

In the midst of the uncertainty and fear, something wonderful has come about — lifelong friendships between business owners. Blank said on the day of his interview, St. Patrick’s Day, the business owners got together through a video conference line for a virtual St. Patrick’s Day toast.

“Most of these people are strangers to me — I’ve never met them in my entire life,” Blank said. “And these are now fast, good friends. That’s what life is about, right?”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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