For many in Washington and beyond, normalcy came to a staggering halt following the COVID-19 outbreak, as businesses across the state closed when Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order.
The ripple effect was massive, and the severe decline of customers, employees, and revenue forced some businesses to close for good. Others have been able to stay afloat, anxiously waiting to reopen, or reopening in phases, according to the state’s Safe Start plan.
When King County recently entered Phase 2, some businesses began to reopen their doors. However, challenges remain. The struggle to reconnect with their communities is one many businesses face. To address this concern, the Bellevue Downtown Association (BDA) has developed a campaign to help reconnect its members to the Bellevue community.
The Heart of Bellevue, launched in partnership between the BDA and the City of Bellevue, is a new campaign to connect and promote the local businesses in downtown Bellevue. Launched in late June, the campaign showcases stories of resiliency through the pandemic and encourages customers to support local businesses.
With the goal of bringing life back to its urban core, the Heart of Bellevue campaign shares stories of activity, creativity, and recovery of local businesses via the BDA’s online blog and social media. The campaign also includes virtual and in-person events for businesses and customers to safely reconnect.
“This is a big opportunity for us to help downtown thrive,” BDA President Patrick Bannon said. “We wanted to recast our work to best support our businesses and tap into the spirit of community.”
The BDA started working on the campaign roughly two weeks into the state’s stay-at-home order.
“Our response has been an evolution,” BDA communications manager Mason Luvera said. “We started by just sharing information about our businesses and keeping the community informed about what’s happening. The Heart of Bellevue is the next phase. It’s focusing on recovery, support, and connection.”
The campaign has a large storytelling function, Luvera said. He and his team have been speaking with business owners to highlight their stories as they reopen to the community.
Mike Schaefer, owner and founder of Soaring Heart, a natural bedding company in Seattle and Bellevue, is among the campaign’s first examples.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Schaefer realized that people wouldn’t be coming in to buy mattresses anytime soon. As a way to keep producing for the community, Soaring Heart pivoted from making natural pillows and mattresses to instead producing cotton face masks. Soaring Heart also assembled N95 masks for local hospitals and donated bedding to local organizations, including Bellevue Boys & Girls Clubs, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Eastside homeless shelters. The store reopened to the public full-time July 1.
The Heart of Bellevue campaign was able to share Schaefer’s story as well as inform the community of the store’s reopening through its online blog.
“Businesses have been really responsive. They’re really excited about this and being able to reconnect to the community,” Luvera said.
Aside from telling the stories of Bellevue businesses, the campaign includes marketing and social engagement, as well as pop-up placemaking activities and activations.
The campaign is exploring opportunities to have safe, socially distant outdoor activities and virtual activities to engage businesses and the community.
Creating that campaign during the pandemic, Bannon said, proved a challenge.
“The uncertainty of when we would be entering Phase 2 was difficult because we wanted to know when we could proactively invite people to the downtown area,” he said, adding that there were other logistical challenges, including event cancellations and connecting with business owners.
However, both Bannon and Luvera said creating the campaign has been deeply rewarding.
“The open and collaborative nature of working with the city’s economic development team, as well as collaborating with other Eastside cities, has been wonderful,” Bannon said. “We’ve also received overwhelming support from community partners and sponsors.”
Luvera mirrored Bannon’s comment and added that he especially enjoyed speaking with businesses as they were getting ready to reopen.
“There was so much excitement and positivity about reopening,” Luvera said. “They kept telling me, ‘We may be back, but it’s different, but we’re just so happy to be back.’ Everyone’s starting to get back out there, and (the pandemic) is causing people to come together in a new way. I think we’ll see a different side of the community that we may not have really seen before.”
The way businesses have been collaborating and helping each other offers a glimmer of hope that the community and businesses will emerge together on the other side of the pandemic, Bannon said.
To learn more about the Heart of Bellevue campaign, visit bellevuedowntown.com.