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Three business owners cope with COVID-19 outbreak has some using video to reach customers and patients.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kevin Bates, left, owner of Symposium Coffee in Tigard and Sherwood, and Jake Pflug, assistant manager, stand outside the Tigard location on March 16, the same day the governor banned dine-in, sit-down customers from bars and restaurants.  On March 16, Kevin Bates sat down and talked about the future of his two Symposium Coffee shops — one in Tigard, the other in Sherwood — amid concerns about the COVID-19 breakout as talk about a possible shutdown of bars and restaurants loomed in the background.

He watched business drop by 10% in early March. That number dipped to a 40% decline by March 13.

But Bates had already taken precautions at his shops to ensure sanitary conditions. His staff had pulled all washable housewares and was using only disposable plates and cups. He had removed several tables and placed others six feet apart.

In addition, he was making homemade hand sanitizer consisting of 190-proof Everclear grain alcohol (the Tigard Symposium includes a whiskey bar) mixed with water, xanthan gum as a thickener and bergamot oil for fragrance.

At the time he said he was looking at work-share programs for his employees to help keep his 16 employees busy and employed.

Hours later, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced she was shutting down seated dining in bars and restaurants to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Fast forward to mid-April. The two Symposium Coffee shops are still open in both locations. But it hasn't been easy, and Bates said he has had to reduce his staff quite a bit.

At the same time, the coffee shop owner has applied for small grants from both Sherwood and Tigard to help out his businesses.

"It will offset some rents," said Bates, noting he's already received a check from Sherwood's emergency relief program. "It will offset some costs." At the same time, he's also applied for federal loans to help out.

Four weeks since his initial assessment about the future of his businesses, Bates said both are still adhering to a strict sanitizing and decontamination protocol. The Tigard shop has two large overhead doors open to keep airflow going and the floors are clearly marked to keep everyone six feet apart.

Meanwhile, the Sherwood location has added a temporary drive-thru, serving coffee drinks through a rear window in the former home that houses the business. Luckily, the window opens up to an alley, which allows customers to drive up to get their drinks, something Bates praises Sherwood officials for allowing during these tough times.

"They have done an amazing job to help us stay open," he said.

"Our plan is that we're hoping that the hours that we're open … we can have and the drinks that we can sell can sustain our baseline minimums … and also to pay our bills," said Bates. "As long as people continue to come in as they are, and the mandates stay the same, then we'll be able to stay."COURTESY PHOTO: MATT WEISSBACH - Matt Weissbach, co-owner of Evolve Physical Therapy, right, conducts a telehealth session with a patient at his Sherwood clinic. Weissbach said the calls allow him to get creative, sometimes asking patients to use soup cans as weights.

At the same time, Old Town's Escape to Yoga is coping with the fallout of having to close its business, which opened in 2012. Two years ago, the studio expanded, adding a boutique store, along with massage and physical therapy.

All that came to a standstill on March 13, when Annette Alyssa, Escape to Yoga's owner, "shut down the studio due to the threat of the spread of COVID-19 among their members, many of whom are at higher risk due to age or compromised immunity," she wrote in an email.

"Just seven days later, however, the studio resumed a full daily schedule of 'virtual' live-streaming group classes and members were eager to jump onboard to maintain the progress they had made in feeling calmer, stronger, and more comfortable in their bodies," said Alyssa. "With the subsequent release of their On-Demand library of recorded classes, the studio has been able to accommodate the unpredictable schedules many people are facing."

Like many other business owners, Alyssa applied for and received an emergency relief check from the city government, something she said that brought tears to her eyes.

"It won't pay all my bills, but it blows me away to be shown that my small business is so important to my local government that they would actually give me fast cash assistance to help my business survive this crisis," she said. "At a time when the future is unknowable, feeling supported is even more valuable than the actual dollars granted." 

At the same time, other Sherwood businesses are coping with the effects of the pandemic and economic shutdown in a variety of ways.

Matt Weissbach, co-owner of Evolve Physical Therapy, said his business has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, closing his clinic March 17 even before the governor issued her stay-at-home executive order on March 23 in order to limit the to limit the potential spread of the virus.

"We thought the right thing for our patients and staff was to close down," said Weissbach. "For us it wasn't about the money, it was about helping these individuals entrusted us with their care and how can we best serve them."

Now his office has transitioned into telehealth physical therapy "because we want continuity of care," he said, noting that when they shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Evolve Physical Therapy had more than 100 patients its three physical therapists were treating.

"Well, we're not going to let them fall by the wayside," he said. "That doesn't go in with our mission statement either."

Weissbach said the telehealth sessions aren't typical Facetime chats, rather they are done on a specific platform that is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, which ensures the confidential handling of protected health information.

During the telehealth sessions, Weissbach said he may ask a patient how high he or she can lift their arm to help him see what their specific problem may be. Also, instead of asking a patient to lift standard weights that are available at the physical therapy facility, possibly asking them to lift something like a soup can.

"We have to get creative. They don't have a whole gym like we do," he said.

Weissbach said he feels employees are an extension of a family and wants to make sure he treats them right by keeping them employed after so many businesses have cut back due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We have not laid off staff," he said of Evolve's physical therapists and support staff. "We have not furloughed staff."

COURTESY PHOTO: ANNETTE ALYSSA - Annette Alyssa, Escape to Yogas owner, conducts a class. Since the required shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alyssa has been live-streaming classes to her customers.He pointed out that his staff is going the extra step during the shutdown, noting that physical therapist Melisa Abesa recently delivered exercise bands and weights to an elderly patient who couldn't leave her home.

Meanwhile, Weissbach said he's optimistic that Evolve will make it through the current tough times.

"We're fighters. We're going to stay open," said Weissbach. "We know brighter days are ahead."


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