Boise CultureCulture

Local businesses discuss pandemic hardships

Photo by Abbey Nimegeers

Local businesses have been hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic. Many have had to shut down, and many more are struggling.

The Spacebar Arcade is one of the many local businesses that have felt the hardships the pandemic has brought. The Spacebar Arcade is a classic arcade that has been in downtown Boise for nine years, serving beer, wine and pre-mixed cocktails alongside live music.

Will Hay, the co-owner, says there have been a lot of challenges, but that having his employees’ health and safety on the line was the toughest part.

“When the city allowed us to reopen, it was scary because we were putting [the employees] in a very peculiar situation,” Hay said. “We were asking them to put their safety and their health on the line so that we could financially continue the bar and make sure that it was allowed to survive.”

Hay says that the staff also had to put up with those who did not want to adhere to the city’s mask mandate. It was hard having to put his employees through all of this, and although those confrontations have subsided, it’s still a thing, according to Hay.

Before the pandemic, the arcade was a hit – they were about to branch out to grow their business, but it was put on hold due to COVID.

[Photo of Boise Fry Co. in downtown Boise]
Photo by Abbey Nimegeers | The Arbiter

The Spacebar Arcade’s safety precautions have included putting up plexiglass, cleaning every hour, wiping down game equipment with sanitizer after it’s been used and providing a mask for those who don’t have one. Employee hours have also been cut back, and the capacity has been reduced to a third.

Another local business that has felt the strain of the pandemic is Blue Cow Frozen Yogurt, ran by Choompu Taboonruang and co-ran by her husband, Rene Hartmer. They serve frozen yogurt as their main staple, but also offer bubble tea.

The shop, off Apple St. near Parkcenter Blvd., has been around for over 10 years. The business was doing well ever since they purchased the shop in December, until the pandemic hit a few months later. 

“Pre-pandemic, it was a pretty good business. I mean, ice cream is probably the most recession-proof business you can own,” Hartmer said. “It’s not only tough for us as owners; we have nine employees in our store. Most of them are actually students that need the money to supplement their income while they study.”

Back in February, the shop made a post on their Facebook page asking for the support of their customers. The post said that they don’t make enough money on some days to cover most of their expenses. Through that post, they received a lot of support from the community.

“We’re incredibly humbled and grateful for all the kind support in this week from the community,” Taboonruang said. “We were actually surprised; we did not expect such a jump in revenues – so many people came in to help!”

The shop’s employees now put the toppings on the frozen yogurt, use plastic cloths for the customers to touch the utensils, special air filters and a UV light that is turned on for 20 minutes each morning to kill any viruses.

The Boise Fry Company has been no exception to the difficulties the pandemic has brought. Ran by Brad Walker, the business is a local chain of burger and fry restaurants that operates mainly in the Treasure Valley.

Before the pandemic, the business was bustling, according to Walker. The strain was felt when having to mainly do curbside pickup.

“That’s a concession on its own; to rely heavily on third-party people to deliver your message, your culture and your product,” Walker said. “And know that that food’s not as good, and trusting that our patrons know that, and they trust us with all that stuff.”

The main goal for the restaurant during these unprecedented times is to make sure the employees feel safe and taken care of, according to Walker. The cleaning protocols have heightened to cleaning and disinfecting everything various times a day, and the employees prepare the food for the customers, such as putting the sauce on the fries and salting them.

When asked if there was something to tell their clientele, Walker emphasized missing their customers the most.

“We miss them! Can’t wait to see their faces. The biggest thing is thanks for the support during a scary and unknown time; and ordering takeout, buying gift certificates, gift cards and things like that,” Walker said. “I feel like the community rallied around local businesses, and we’re just over the moon and appreciative for them. We can’t wait to pay it forward; just a big thank you and we can’t wait to pack the place again with the customers.”

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