The coronavirus has shaken the economy to its roots. From large-scale commerce to small businesses, the effect of COVID-19 has been witnessed by the masses. All across the country, small businesses are being forced to close their doors, some only temporary, but not everyone is so lucky.
Dan Ullom is one of four owners of Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond Town Center.
“It’s a family owned business,” Ullom said. “My wife has a stake in it, and my parents have a stake in it as well.”
Ullom expressed how the initial idea to open an independent bookstore came from an article in the New York Times, explaining the resurgence of bookstores, more specifically, independent bookstores.
“My mom sent me that article and she said, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be fun if we did this?’” he said. “It was kind of half-joking, but we’d always kind of harbored a dream about opening a bookstore. We wouldn’t have left our careers, my mom wouldn’t come out for retirement to open a coffee stand or something like that, because that’s not where our passion lives, books are where our passion lies.”
Before opening Brick & Mortar Books, Ullom was a school teacher. He taught fourth and fifth grade in the Issaquah School District for 14 years, His mother Tina Ullom, was a school librarian in the Lake Washington School District for more than 15 years. Dan’s father John Ullom previously owned an oil clean-up business. Both John and Tina came out of retirement to be involved in the bookstore. Dan’s wife Heidi Ullom is a nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Spending much of their professional careers in education, Dan and his mother are devoted to reading, although it seems all of the Ulloms have a love for literature.
“I think he would average reading 200-300 books a year,” Ullom said referring to his father. “It’s in the blood, you know? I think it helps that I have two kids and they read like crazy. Every time we’re on a trip, we’re going into little bookstores.”
The Ulloms did their research for two years prior to opening their doors to the community in May 2017. The family put in the time and effort to ensure a successful business, they researched if there was even a need for a bookstore in the area, where it should be located, even how big the store would need to be.
“We looked into it more and we realized that Redmond was a great location,” Dan said. “A lot of people haven’t moved on from the closing of Borders, and there was still kind of a whole new community that we tried to fill.”
Like the majority of business owners, the Ulloms had to pivot their business model to adapt to the current situation in society. All March and April events were canceled, book clubs have gone virtual and buying books became essentially the same as ordering take-out.
In order to keep their customers reading and entertained during isolation, Dan continued to distribute books to the public. Orders for books were made by calling in or emailing the order. Books were either be picked up from the store or delivered by Dan himself.
“People are so pleased to get books when they’re on lockdown,” Dan said. “I just tried to knock on the door and be quick about it, but every once in a while somebody would be like, ‘Thank you so much for doing this, you’ve made my day.’”
Due to the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 23, Brick & Mortar Books closed operations at 3 p.m. and finished deliveries by 5 p.m. March 25.
Dan expressed the fact he wanted to find a way to continue distributing books at a time they may need it most but stressed that it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, given the circumstances.
“I could get into the minutiae of the law and, and still sell books,” he said. “But that would really be breaking kind of the heart of what [Inslee’s] asking people to do. And right now [Inslee] is effectively asking people to sacrifice for the greater good.”
States like California have deemed bookstores as educational, therefore making them an essential business. That has not been the case for Washington state.
“It may be something that we can petition and make the case,” Dan said. “I also, you know, want to do right by the public. And I think the right thing to do, even if we did get a waiver of some kind, it feels right to just shut it down for a little bit. Until we know a little bit more information.”
According to Dan, Brick & Mortar Books can handle a few weeks or more of closure.
“We’ll open up in a couple of weeks, the community will support us and we’ll be fine,” he said.
If this turns out to be a much longer stay-at-home situation, more decisions will have to be made.
Dan said the biggest concerns right now are his employees and rent.
“Right now we’re determining what’s best to do with our employees,” he said. “But I think the other part of that is the rent. The rent is [the] number one [cost] we spend the most money on a month. It’s gonna hurt, it won’t be painless. But it won’t put us out of business.”