Weathering the Winter

Field Report No. 20170228

Topic: Small business vs. snow
Conditions: Feast or famine

COMMENTS: It's more of the same this morning. Chunks and patches of ice are petrified to my windshield, causing me to re-evaluate as I scrape: what life decisions have led to me not having a two-car garage in this climate?

2016-17 has given us a real, full-on winter for the first time in several years, and though that is a gift for the snow sports industry and our year-round water supply, it's been a struggle for many small businesses. And the gift keeps on giving, deep into February and beyond, if you dare to look at the forecast.

This morning, I'm on a mission to check in with some proprietors of small businesses I love. A jaunt around town must always start with coffee, so today it'll be the largest, boldest pour-over option they have at Revel 77 (roasted by our friends at DOMA). Mike and Deb Nelson are both in the house today, so I ask them how the big winter has affected them.

"It's really hard," says Mike as he carefully saturates the grounds. "It's like a golf course: if the weather keeps people at home, you're just not making up that loss. But still, we've had some bright spots. On a day Gonzaga University canceled classes, we had a lot of students come up here for the first time, saying they've been meaning to try us out, and the day off gave them the chance."

Mike and Deb Nelson of Revel77 Coffee in Spokane

Mike and Deb Nelson of Revel77 Coffee in Spokane

Deb chimes in, "The dog walkers still come in on their way to the dog park nearby, and skiers on their way to the hill." The Nelsons also see the positive side of the snow up close, through the success of their son and daughter-in-law Ben and Virginia Nelson, who are having a banner year at their Methow Valley business The Rendezvous Huts.

For a third-wave coffee shop in town, though, it takes creative thinking to generate new interest when everyone has the winter blahs. Maybe that's why Mike and Deb will host "Coffee Talk" educational and sampling events on March 11th and 18th at Revel77, in partnership with the nearby Moran Prairie County Library.

Lolo: Unique by Design in downtown Spokane

Lolo: Unique by Design in downtown Spokane

Next stop is Lolo, to see how Lainey and Denny LaRue have fared through the season. Maybe it's the holiday gifts and their selection of Krochet Kids knit products, candles, sweaters, and other cabin-fever commodities, but things seem to be humming right along. The bustle of spring fashions arriving might have something to do with the place's energy, too.

For some business owners, the season has taken a greater toll. As I share lunch with Shahrokh Nikfar, he explains why he had to permanently close Mediterrano this month, one of two eateries he owns inside Saranac Commons (the other, Caffé Affogato espresso and ice cream, remains open).

Shahrokh Nikfar of Caffé Affogato

Shahrokh Nikfar of Caffé Affogato

Affogato: Italian Espresso over ice cream

Affogato: Italian Espresso over ice cream

"It was the summer road construction on our block, followed by this winter weather,"  Shahrokh says. "We just couldn't overcome the lack of foot traffic." He goes on to explain that, while disappointing, it is actually a relief for his schedule to be more reasonable. In addition to Caffé Affogato, he has a full-time job he is passionate about at the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance (an Iranian American, he has experienced housing discrimination firsthand), and he hosts a radio show (The Persian Hour) Saturdays on KYRS.

Though he is philosophical about the closing of his restaurant, Shahrokh is never short on joy and hospitality; before our conversation ends, he invites me over for a Mediterranean meal at his home (he lives just two blocks away from me in the Cliff Cannon neighborhood). While I wish more people had tried Mediterrano while it was open, I will definitely be taking him up on the offer to enjoy his excellent food at least one more time.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Around the Northwest, F&C partners with uncommon local businesses, building short lists and putting out guides of all kinds. Through our quarterly magazine, area maps of seven communities, and digital/social media, our mission is to tell a better story about our region, so locals and travelers can live a better story while they are here.

We hope you patronize the places where local people are hand-crafting the best stuff (rather than hitting up national chains, who operate with a much larger safety net). If you know an uncommon local business that may have been impacted by the winter weather, why not brave the slippery sidewalks and go give them some of your dining, shopping, recreation, or entertainment dollars? 

-Ross Carper