Businesses and consumers across Wallowa County are feeling the pinch from government-mandated closures and admonitions to maintain “social distancing” by keeping at least 6 feet from other patrons.
Grocery stores in particular are finding it difficult to keep their shelves stocked.
“We’re working with our suppliers who are taxed trying to get product to send out and staffing that allows them to get product out,” said Marco Rennie, owner of the Market Place in Joseph.
He said wholesalers are struggling to maintain stocks of, in particular, staple items. His primary wholesaler was shipping limited quantities to ensure staples are distributed in a somewhat equitable fashion to all the communities they supply.
Rennie said Thursday, March 19, that in his last shipment, he received no frozen foods or dairy items and thus, he is also working with other wholesalers as well.
He said that so far, there has been no need for layoffs at his store, but what the future holds, he can only guess.
“It’s a big unknown,” Rennie said. “Every day, something new evolves.”
Mike Goss, owner of the Dollar Stretcher in Enterprise, agreed. He noted that demand for grocery items in both the Northwest and the nation has skyrocketed — primarily because people are hoarding. He said demand now is double what it usually is.
“It’s a chain-reaction train wreck,” he said.
Goss said the recent run on toilet tissue didn’t hit him so hard at first because he just happened to get a good deal on a large quantity before it happened.
“It wasn’t because I was smart,” he said. “It was sheer luck.”
Goss said he had people coming from as far away as La Grande to buy his extra quantities and even had someone purchase tissue for a relative in Boise, Idaho. By Thursday, March 19, that extra supply was nearly gone.
The county’s largest grocer, Safeway in Enterprise, was completely out of toilet tissue Friday morning. Store director Katie Wightman referred all comments to corporate headquarters, who did not respond to an email.
However, casual observation showed the store also had virtually no flour and limited amounts of cleaning supplies, bread, dried beans and some canned items. Other items, such as dairy, frozen foods, many forms of pasta and produce seemed well stocked.
One customer, Carol Voss of Enterprise, said she wasn’t in need of the missing toilet tissue and other than flour, found everything she needed.
“I think they’re trying their hardest to keep the shelves stocked,” Voss said.
Several other customers interviewed agreed with Voss, that other than a few items, the store was fairly well stocked.
One woman, who declined to be identified, had just been to the Dollar Stretcher for toilet tissue because she heard there was none at Safeway. She noted Safeway also was quite short on cleaning supplies, canned food, dry beans and bread.
Wallowa Food City also was contacted, but no response was received.
Grocery stores weren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. With Wallowa County heavily dependent on the tourist trade, some places of lodging had noticed a drop-off in reservations.
“People this time of year are used to being stretched,” said Vicki Searles, executive director of the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce. “But they also have faith that as May or June come along, business will be OK.”
Mike and Raylene O’Connor, owners of the Bronze Antler Bed & Breakfast in Joseph, said Tuesday, March 17, they’d experienced numerous cancellations.
“We’ve had a ton of them,” Mike O’Connor said. “Every day, we get a few more.”
He said reservations were down 20% to 30% of the norm for this time of year, and expected it to drop to 10% to 15% soon.
O’Connor said most of those canceling reservations mentioned COVID-19 — coronavirus — although some have had other reasons.
“it’s been kind of mixed,” he said.
The O’Connors usually spend the tourist season in Alaska and hire an innkeeper to tun the Bronze Antler, along with a couple housekeepers. Mike O’Connor was unsure they’d be able to get away from the four-bedroom B&B this year.
“This year, I don’t know how to project things,” he said. “It’s likely going to be a negative year.”
The Log House RV and Campground in Enterprise also has experienced cancellations, according to owner Todd Morrow. He said they were particularly low for July and August.
“I’m still waiting to see how it affects me for June,” he said. “The best I can do is hope for a rebound once things clear up in April. But everything’s up in the air for that right now.”
5 Peaks RV Park in Joseph also is experiencing some limits on the tourist season. Owner Marcy Hamilton said she had been getting inquiries from November through March 1, when there was a sudden drop-off.
“Now there’s nothing. Not even inquiries,” she said.
The park, which has 10 sites for RVs and campers, could be aided by insurance, Hamilton said, if losses due to COVID-19-related cancellations cause a significant loss of business. But she’s not sure if it will be necessary.
“If I lost a whole month, that would not be good,” she said.