Opening up retail will restore the state’s lifeblood

Apr 30, 2020
Written by Renée Sunde, President & CEO

Throughout Washington State’s coronavirus crisis, many retailers and employees have been hiring and working hard to provide essential services to residents mostly sheltered in their homes to reduce the rates of infection.

At the same time, from Moses Lake to Forks, and from Camas and Tacoma to the towns and hamlets dotting the rolling hills of the Palouse, the small retailers that are the backbones of their communities have been shuttered at great sacrifice and cost to the state economy. Many are on the edge of becoming vacant memories if they cannot reopen to safely serve customers.

That’s why in cooperation with our members statewide and our national partners, Washington Retail has released a detailed plan to carefully and responsibly reopen retailers throughout the state.

Because Washingtonians have cooperated to bend infection rates downward during Governor Jay Inslee’s Stay Home Stay Healthy order, retailers feel it is time to agree on plans for the reopening of stores that maintain social distancing and numerous other precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and other public health authorities.

We look forward to working with the Governor to arrive at a safe strategy as soon as

possible. Our Open for Business plan and a related national Blueprint for Shopping Safe call for a phased-in reopening in collaboration with public health officials to make the safety of shoppers and employees the top priority.

A fully engaged and operating retail industry is vital to the state economy. The industry normally generates roughly half of the state’s general fund budget from sales taxes and employs one in four people. More important now, though, is that owners of the small closed specialty shops and retailers throughout our state are as fully committed to operating safely as the “essential retailers” who have implemented a host of best practices and made numerous operational adjustments to protect their customers and employees.

The goals in our plan are clear and inspire the confidence necessary to reopen. It proposes to shift thinking of retailers as essential or non-essential to all being fully committed to serving the needs of their communities safely and responsibly. As retailers, we are prepared to follow the lead of public health officials to accomplish a gradual, phased-in recovery that might vary by location and remain adaptable to changing health data and the effectiveness of safety precautions.

Otherwise, our state economy and the livelihoods of families across our state are in true peril. This week’s announcement of 16,000 layoffs at Boeing, 10% of its workforce, will put a huge enough dent in the state’s economy for months and years to come.

Prolonging inactivity in the state’s diverse and committed retail sector will only add to the pain. Retailers large and small are on the front lines of Washington State’s exemplary battle to defeat the virus. In truth, they all – those who are open and those eager to reopen – are equally committed to operating more safely and carefully than ever after learning the higher standard taught to us during this crisis.

More than just defeating the virus hangs in the balance. Retailers need to return to work to restore the lifeblood of Washington State.