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Seattle Business Feels Impact Of Coronavirus

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Seattle health authorities are warning people to avoid gatherings of 10 people or more. We're going to look now at what that means for businesses that depend on public gatherings to survive. Restaurants often subsist on the tiniest of profit margins. Olga Sagan owns a bakery chain in Seattle called Piroshky Piroshky. It has been around for almost 30 years.

Welcome to All Things Considered.

OLGA SAGAN: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: We're at the end of a very eventful week in Seattle. How have your sales this week compared to, say, the same week last year?

SAGAN: It is a good 50% lower...

SHAPIRO: Wow.

SAGAN: ...Than the same week last week - last year, I'm sorry. But we are really, truly hoping for it to go up next week with people maybe, hopefully, calming down, but we are preparing for it to go down as low as 70%.

SHAPIRO: Wow. And how do you make those preparations? Like, what do you do?

SAGAN: We are going down to our minimal staffing, so only full-time employees. We are completely stalling our hiring process. We usually now start hiring for the summer. We have completely stopped building our inventory up for a busy spring season.

SHAPIRO: I know one of your storefronts is in Pike Place Market in Seattle, which is a huge tourist draw. What's it like there this week?

SAGAN: So Pike Place Market is the heart of downtown Seattle, and it pains me to see that there is not a lot of customers. So, again, we're hoping that people can get through initial shock and panic and start coming back to the market, but it definitely is visible that there is a little bit of a slowdown.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Are you getting any support from the city or the county, any tax relief...

SAGAN: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...Or signs that relief funds might come your way?

SAGAN: Not yet. I understand that the city is pretty overwhelmed right now, and the county is overwhelmed. Funny enough, I saw a parking reinforcement truck here yesterday giving tickets.

SHAPIRO: People are still getting parking tickets?

SAGAN: It's not just people. It's Pike Place Market artists and vendors were getting parking tickets. So we actually shooshed (ph) the parking reinforcement out the Pike Place Market grounds. And we're like, what are you doing? People are not making any money here. Just please leave. And she was nice enough. She left.

SHAPIRO: Oh, wow.

SAGAN: She was like, OK, I'm just going to go. And we know city has a lot on its plate, and I'm hoping that city will come around and create support system but, unfortunately, not yet. We have not seen anything from the city, county or state yet.

SHAPIRO: So how long do you think you can keep going at this rate?

SAGAN: I'll give ourselves probably a couple months - the most. We were supposed to be signing two new leases and expanding, and we actually put everything on pause. And we can't do it right now. We're afraid to make any investments in the future right now.

SHAPIRO: So are all of the Pike Place vendors - the artists, the fruit and vegetable sales people, the ones who toss the salmon - talking to each other about how they're going to survive this?

SAGAN: Absolutely, absolutely. And people are finding different ways of trying to survive this. We came up with a new Piroshky just yesterday called Catch-22 Piroshky with immune-boosting ingredients.

SHAPIRO: Really? What's in it?

SAGAN: Oh, my God. It's everything from cayenne pepper to ginger to garlic to curry powder to zucchini. It's literally had 22 immune boosting ingredients.

SHAPIRO: We should say health officials would not necessarily endorse this as a preventive measure for the coronavirus.

SAGAN: No.

SHAPIRO: But it sounds delicious.

SAGAN: It is really delicious. And we called it Catch-22 because definition of Catch-22 is the situation that you don't know what to do with. So everyone is really trying to do their best to be creative.

SHAPIRO: Olga Sagan, thank you for talking with us. And hang in there.

SAGAN: Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.

SHAPIRO: She's the owner of Seattle's Piroshky Piroshky Bakery chain. And we will continue checking in with them as the story unfolds.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.