A provision of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen Washington’s economy allowed Renaissance Marine Group to start manufacturing last week before Asotin County moved to Phase 2, even though it is not considered an essential business.
The Clarkston company began finishing vessels for the 2020 model year that will end in the middle of the summer under language that permits companies to preserve the value of their inventories, said Bruce Larson, director of sales and marketing.
Still, the upgrade Asotin County got to Phase 2 of Washington’s four-stage reopening plan Monday was welcome news to Renaissance Marine, as it navigates through new challenges created by COVID-19.
Its staff of almost 100 employees can now do the same work on Duckworth, Weldcraft and Northwest boats they did before the coronavirus, as long as they follow new safety precautions, Larson said.
Renaissance Marine was one of many businesses in Asotin County weighing what the loosening of restrictions meant to them.
The owners of Eclips Salon and Day Spa in Clarkston were cleaning and preparing for staff training about the new protocols they will follow when the business resumes offering in-person services, likely sometime next week.
Within two hours of Asotin County going to Phase 2, And Books Too allowed customers to browse its shelves for the first time since late March.
At Renaissance Marine Group, the employees have made significant adjustments even though they have all been allowed to return, Larson said.
The company used to have essentially one shift that started at 5:30 a.m. and ended at 4:45 p.m., four days a week, with breaks and lunch.
Now Renaissance Marine operates five days a week with four eight-hour shifts that begin at different times to limit contact among employees. The earliest one starts at 4:30 a.m. and the last one ends at 9:30 p.m.
“The idea is to get people in and out and do it safely,” Larson said.
What impact the pandemic will have on its earnings is still unfolding. During the recession and other economic downturns, the demand remained stronger for boats 22 feet or longer than for smaller ones.
People buying larger boats often are wealthier individuals who don’t need to finance their purchases and are less worried about losing their incomes, Larson said.
“The marine dealers that retail our products are just beginning to get back into full operation,” he said. “We don’t expect to fully know the effect of this event on demand for several months yet.”
Similar to Renaissance Marine, when Eclips begins offering in-person services again, its operations will be changed.
The waiting area with its comfy chairs and magazines has been replaced with marks on the floor to help customers stand 6 feet apart and a large bottle of hand sanitizer that sits on a pedestal.
Customers will wait for a text in their cars or outside in a patio area that’s being installed on the north side of the business this week before they enter, said Sabrena Knight, who owns the business with Cynthia Bell.
The customers will be required to wear masks and use hand sanitizer as they enter the business. Employees will be wearing masks and taking extra steps to prevent the spread of germs. In between customers, they will be cleaning their stations with a hospital-grade product and changing their smocks.
The business is in a good position, Knight said.
It still sold merchandise throughout March, April and May.
The individuals who work at the salon received unemployment through expanded federal programs.
Demand appears strong. They have more than 500 appointments they are rescheduling.
“I miss my people,” Knight said. “I miss my schedule.”
The owners of Eclips aren’t the only ones excited about Asotin County’s rules relaxing a little.
And Books Too sold books with a combination of online, curbside, delivery and mail services after it couldn’t allow customers in the store, said its owner, Judi Wutzke.
Still, its revenue in April was $900 compared with $5,000 to $6,000 in a normal month.
She lost sales when people couldn’t have books autographed at three events that were scheduled and because some readers make their purchases at the store to have conversations with the staff about books.
The business survived with help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, Southeast Washington Economic Development Association and her savings.
“Keeping the store open, to me, is kind of a personal crusade,” Wutzke said.
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