Like many entrepreneurs in the greater Walla Walla Valley, Whitman students running businesses have had to adapt to the changing COVID-19 economic landscape in order to stay afloat.
For sociology senior Marc Goff and his health food smoothie truck Harvest Smoothie Company (HSCO), this meant shifting to a drive-thru-focused business model and moving the truck to a new home where this could be possible. It is now located at 1415 Plaza Way in the parking lot of The Brik Bar and Grill.
“Our profit margin’s [have] always been very tight,” Goff said. “So expanding when everything else is shutting down has been probably the hardest thing — when we see everything else closing around us or struggling to stay up or knowing that everything’s staying up on grants or loans.”
The City of Walla Walla rolled out a relief program for small businesses in May, providing grants to 36 businesses totaling approximately $137,000, according to the City of Walla Walla Program Coordinator Jennifer Beckmeyer.
These grants have primarily gone to “service industry businesses, and micro enterprises or sole proprietors that have been in business for under two years and don’t qualify for the federal business relief programs,” Beckmeyer said.
Goff was looking to expand HSCO prior to the pandemic taking shape, potentially renting out a brick-and-mortar space, but opted for a drive-thru because of the economic uncertainty.
“We tried to see what we could do and how we could expand with the small business that we had, and that’s when we saw the drive-thrus were really, really busy and restaurants were really slow,” Goff said.
Going into his second month at the new location, Goff says business has increased by over 20 percent.
“I like that location because it’s got a lot of exposure,” he said. “There’s, I think, roughly 20,000 cars that drive by that intersection everyday — it’s the busiest intersection in Walla Walla.”
The Wire spoke with Goff when he first opened the vegan smoothie truck back in 2017 on 509 E Main St as a way to pay for his education and support his daughter while at the same time bringing health food to Walla Walla.
“There’s a vast hole which was such a strange thing when there’s so much great agriculture here and so many great restaurants, but there’s just always been lacking a standard or a certain level of excellence when it comes to the quality of ingredients,” he said.
Goff is hoping to keep the truck in its current drive-thru location for at least a few years and has added new savory options to the smoothie-centered menu, including a vegan eggless egg salad sandwich and a hummus sandwich sourced from Walla Walla Hummus Hummus.
Meanwhile, the 4 East Fades barbershop is another student business that started out as both a passion project and a way for politics senior Mateo Dahlstrom to financially support himself through Whitman.
Offering affordable $15 haircuts, $20 fades and now thrifted clothing, Dahlstrom has adapted the business to a COVID-19 climate of masked haircutting and contacting customers primarily through social media rather than in-person.
“The biggest change was just figuring out how comfortable I am with [providing this service] during COVID, because it definitely was something that was lacking because [of] the barbershops being all closed down,” Dahlstrom said.
Over the summer, Dalhstrom moved into new off-campus housing, turning an extra room into a barbershop doubling as a thrift shop.
“I’ve been thrifting for a few years as well and realized I had a lot of stuff to sell so I just decided to make it into that as well now,” he said.
Dalhstrom began forming the business during his early years of college, cutting hair in residence hall bathrooms like Jewett Hall’s Four East section. Moving into the off-campus space has allowed for a more private setup in line with COVID-19 precautions and he plans to keep the business up and running at least through the year.
“I love to do it and I hope to continue to do it,” Dahlstrom said. “If I could find a balance where I’m able to use something of my politics major at Whitman and connect it to some sort of a business model where you’re cutting hair and also acting as a center for activism and political change, I think that would be really cool.”