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‘It’s made our business stronger and better’: Local companies positively impacted by COVID-19

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Preparing food at Sushi Time in Idaho Falls. | Courtesy Google maps, July 2018

IDAHO FALLS – The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many local businesses negatively, but some have stepped up to turn a bad situation into something positive.

Cordell Pickering of Idaho Falls recently formed a Facebook group in response to the coronavirus shutdown. It’s called Stand Up to COVID-19: Support East Idaho Local Business.

The group provides a platform where business owners can interact and help provide resources to help each other out.

“It’s been a really good group to help local businesses advertise their stuff or get information out to the community,” Pickering tells EastIdahoNews.com. “There’s (also) been a lot of community members wanting to help local businesses. As the numbers grow, more people can help each other.”

More than 5,300 people and 100 businesses have joined since it was formed on April 1. Pickering got the idea from a woman in Oklahoma who started a similar group.

Pickering says many businesses have directly benefitted from it, including Idaho Falls restaurant Sushi Time. Pickering says he noticed the restaurant was closed while driving around town. He reached out about buying a gift card as a show of support.

“They were surprised that I wanted to buy a gift card,” says Pickering. “You could tell he (the owner) was really stressed out about the situation.”

Pickering told the owner about the Facebook group and said he wanted to help drum up some business for him. He turned to social media, people started buzzing about it and the response was overwhelming.

“They got a ton of business after that,” Pickering says.

Not only did Pickering and others help the business stay afloat, one of the owners even showed Pickering how to make sushi.

“It was a good experience for both of us,” says Pickering. “Since then, I’ve had many businesses contact me and say, ‘Thank you for creating this group, and this is how it’s helped me out.’”

Pickering says he plans to drop “Stand Up to COVID-19” from the group name once the pandemic goes away so local businesses can continue to have a platform to support each other.

Experiences like this got us wondering how other businesses have been positively impacted by the pandemic. Here are a few we found.

Chick-Fil-A

Chick-Fil-A in Ammon began construction on two new drive-thru lanes in March. They are now complete. | Courtesy Facebook

Like many other restaurants in eastern Idaho, Chick-Fil-A in Ammon was forced to offer curbside and takeout only when the stay-home order went into effect. Though there was an initial slowdown in business, Marketing Director Lisa Clark says mobile app purchases quickly skyrocketed.

“Our mobile app orders … tripled, if not quadrupled, just because the app is so amazing,” Clark says. “When you place a mobile order, it goes to a completely different screen (in the restaurant), so you’re actually first priority.”

It’s a trend that’s likely to continue because Clark says app usage hasn’t stopped. Another benefit of the outbreak has been the addition of two additional drive-thru lanes on the south side, which has increased the pace for traffic to move through the line.

Mobile order signs in the parking lot have also increased from four to six and are now on the south end as well.

“There’s a lot of things during COVID that was kind of a push (initially) because we weren’t ready, but we’ve adapted and now it’s made our business stronger and better,” she says.

Idaho State Liquor Store

At the peak of COVID-19, when people were hoarding toilet paper, alcohol was another product people wanted.

Sales at Idaho State Liquor Store on Woodruff in Idaho Falls tripled, according to a clerk who declined to give her name. Vodka was the most common purchase.

Though some people were coming in to get their fix during a stressful time, she says the bulk of the purchases were from people who don’t traditionally drink alcohol.

“A lot of (Latter-day Saint) people that you never see in a liquor store … were hoarding booze for medicinal things, like tinctures, hand sanitizer, all that stuff,” the clerk says.

She says people from out of state were visiting the store as well.

Sales are starting to level off now, and some people have even returned items now that businesses are back open. Overall, she says the impact of COVID-19 has been positive for the Liquor Store.

Products inside the Liquor Store | Courtesy Google maps

Advanced Heating and Air

Another popular demand during the coronavirus outbreak has been plumbing services.

Advanced Heating and Air customer service representative Mckenna (she declined to give her last name), says she’s seen a significant increase in plumbing services in the Rigby area. She doesn’t know how big the increase was, but she cites the stay-home order and the frequent use of faucets, sinks, showers and toilets as the reason.

“We’ve been booked pretty solid for plumbing,” says Mckenna.

She says the plumbing needs were sporadic and couldn’t narrow it down to one specific issue. Heating and air repairs did not increase due to weather and demand.

“Not a lot of people have air conditioners around here,” McKenna says.

Bish’s RV

Camping and outdoor recreation have been popular activities during the coronavirus, and Bish’s RV in Idaho Falls is one business that has benefitted from that.

Marketing Director Megan Walker says sales have increased 57% since last year.

“Sales have been phenomenal. We’ve been really surprised what COVID has done for the RV industry and for Bish’s RV,” Walker says.

Travel trailers have been the most popular purchase during the pandemic, she says. The stay-home order was a concern at first, but she credits the company’s buy-at-home option and online orders for turning things around.

“We started to see a significant increase in our digital traffic … and the sales followed shortly after,” says Walker.

An expansion project has been in the works for the last several years, but Walker says the increase in sales has allowed them to move forward sooner than anticipated. Ground will be broken on a new sales office and service lot in August behind their current location at 3855 North 5th East.

An artistic rendering of the new Bish’s RV building. | Courtesy Megan Walker

The project is slated for completion in the spring of 2021, and a grand reopening celebration will happen in conjunction with it. It will coincide with the company’s 30th anniversary, and Walker says it’s an exciting time for Bish’s RV.

“We are so thankful to the community and our customers. We’re really excited to expand. Our customers and employees have wanted this for years,” she says. “We are tremendously excited to help people get out and find a different way to social distance and enjoy the great outdoors.”

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