Tri-Cities leaders, experts help businesses know how to reopen safely

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — For those that frequent wineries, it’s not just about the wine itself – it’s the experience and the social aspect. Spring and Summer are usually peak seasons for those kinds of outings, but the pandemic has caused wineries to reconsider their entire operation.

“Businesses are asking, how do I develop a safety plan and what are my specific guidelines and even, what phase am I in?” said Michael Novakovich, president & CEO of Visit Tri-Cities.

Those questions are what local leaders and experts are trying to help with.

“Because of my hospitality background and work with the wine business I thought it’d be a natural way for me to help support,” said Byron Marlowe,  WSU Tri-Cities Don Smith Distinguished Professor and director of wine and beverage business management.

He worked with the Washington State Wine Commission and Washington Wine Institute to come up with state guidelines for wineries specifically, which have some unique challenges.

“The largest challenge that I see is that wineries have traditionally built their tasting rooms around a bar,” he said. “Now, we need to be able to have spacing in between patrons, and it’s not going to allow for us to immediately reopen with that traditional wine bar or central community area.”

For those working in other industries and looking for information, Tri-Cities Open and Safe was launched on Wednesday by the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and other local partners.

It’s a one-stop shop website listing resources for business owners so they know the dos and don’ts. An interactive map on the website even allows anyone to look up businesses that have signed a pledge, committing to reopen under safe procedures.

“We’ve been asking, how do we preserve not only public health but our local economy?” said Novakovich.

It’s a work in progress as everyone – wineries, clothing stores, restaurants – adjusts to the “new normal.” On the bright side, it may open new doors.

“I’m already seeing situations where wineries that are reopening have done a wonderful job of adapting, like outdoor spacing now being used,” said Marlowe, who visited some Walla Walla wineries right after the county moved into Phase 2. “You’re seeing that as a place where community is being formed now, like it was traditionally in a bar.”