Amidst pandemic, some local businesses are thriving

Published by
Maddie Afonso

The COVID-19 pandemic has put millions of Americans out of work, and permanently closed thousands of small businesses. However, some businesses in Sammamish have made it out of the lockdown and are now succeeding, even thriving. Their experience shows how truly bifurcated the economic impact of the pandemic has been.

Some of these businesses unexpectedly benefitted from a change in consumer behavior. Others were quick to adapt their business model for operating under new health and safety standards to prevent COVID-19 spread.

With many people now self-isolating in their homes, finding ways to exercise has become a new priority. For Stacia Pache, founder of the knee brace brand itBandz, the renewed interest in home exercise has driven a new wave of growth for her business.

Sales of itBandz, a portable knee brace, soared after COVID-19 hit.

Pache founded itBandz in 2015 after an old knee injury started to cause her problems while she was training for a half-marathon. With extensive experience in product development and marketing, Pache decided to jump into designing her own knee brace. Soon, her product itBandz could be found at retailers such as Bartell Drugs and Ralphs.

“At the end of last year, I decided to pull back from retail and really focus on my online storefront,” Pache said. “Then COVID-19 hit, and I was so happy I had made that transition.”

The move could not have been more perfectly timed. With a bigger online presence established and the pandemic sequestering people to their homes, the popularity of itBandz quickly took off. As more people prioritized fitness and online convenience, Pache said her sales came in triple of what was forecasted, and orders are still increasing.

Pache said a majority of her customers are seniors who purchase itBandz to help with arthritis. Seniors are the highest risk group for COVID-19.

“I have so many seniors that are able to stay active, pain free and carry on as many of their usual activities as possible by wearing itBandz,” she said. 

Enabling the senior population to regain routines and exercise in their lives has garnered a multitude of positive reviews, adding to the already hundreds of success stories that Pache has received.

“It’s why I do it,” Pache said in response to the positive feedback.

Bala Yoga, a local studio, did not have the luxury of a dominant online presence before its business was forced to change entirely. Ten years after its founding, the business was at an all-time high in the months right before the pandemic, according to owner Mike Baiocchi. The studio had grown to cover three locations and had over 50 teachers and employees.

But when the public health emergency escalated in late March, the studio was forced to temporarily close. Right before that happened, Bala Yoga was experimenting with livestreaming classes on Facebook in tandem with regular in-person classes. Baiocchi said virtual yoga was introduced partially because some customers were not comfortable coming into the studio, even while it was still open, due to fear of COVID-19. The studio now had a potential way to adapt.

“This was an idea we’ve had far before the pandemic and it just motivated us to start sooner and offer our students virtual yoga classes,” Baiocchi said. “We needed a way to keep our teachers working and our members practicing yoga.”

A livestream yoga class on Bala TV.

The livestreams evolved into the studio’s own streaming platform, Bala TV, which was released in May. The site enabled the studio to host more videos and features. Despite changing their business model, Baiocchi admits that he still lost a few customers.

“We are planning to re-build into an even better company and studio,” Baiocchi said in reference to his studio’s post-pandemic plans.

Much like itBandz, Gray Barn Nursery has benefitted tremendously from shifting consumer behavior, although they did not have to do much to catch the windfall.

“Business has been crazy,” Hilary Forman, manager of the nursery, said.

Many people now have more time to do yard work, which means more trips to the nursery. Customers have come in for everything from flowers and garden materials to bagged soils and piles of mulch.

Forman said gardening provides a way to sustain yourself and know where your food comes from. It is also an outlet for relaxation and control in a time of uncertainty. For parents, it can turn into a learning experience for kids, especially since schools had closed and every child was effectively being homeschooled.

Some customers came just for retail therapy. Conveniently, Gray Barn was one of the few businesses allowed to stay open throughout the lockdown, and it became a destination.

“I believe some of the customers are coming for a chance to get out of the house, and just happen to end up purchasing something,” Forman said.

She met a couple who came in solely to “talk to other human beings” during the worst of the lockdown.

The unexpected demand has led the nursery to a very good year so far. On June 25, Gray Barn had already made more in sales than any other year. Of course, the busy customer traffic meant very hard work for the staff.

“It’s been challenging,” Forman said. “We are happy we have a job, but we’ve all been working more than we’ve ever worked before.”

Maddie Afonso

Maddie Afonso is a former business reporter for the Sammamish Independent. She is a 2021 graduate of Eastlake High School, where she was an editor of the yearbook and wrote for the school’s magazine, the Wolf Street Journal.

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