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Three stores in Boise strip mall adjusting to life during a pandemic

Most of the businesses in the Westpark Marketplace went dark two months ago. Some are getting ready to reopen again.

BOISE, Idaho — The neighborhood strip mall, a truly American entity and a perfect microcosm for how businesses have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Westpark Marketplace on Maple Grove and Emerald in Boise has seen many of its open signs go dark over the last two months, shut down due to COVID-19 concerns.

Some businesses like the Human Bean drive-thru have been able to grind it out without noticing much of a slow down.

They've instituted some safety and distancing practices for both employees and customers.

But on the other side of the spectrum, Capital City Ballet Center has been closed since mid-March.

At the time, Melissa Strader said she had about 100 students taking classes six days a week.

"It certainly was a weird time, a scary time but we just really tried to stay positive through all of this and look to the future when we could all dance together in-person again," Strader said.

Strader said she's waiting to see if she's been approved for a small business loan. But she adds that the business side hasn't been the hardest part of putting ballet on the backburner.

"[It's been] very different, really very, very different," Strader said. "I miss them all so very much."

The dance studio will be back open on Monday.

"It's going to be different, but it's OK, we've got marks on the bars six feet apart so that's really clear," Strader said.

"You kind of create a sense of community and family with all of your families and students and I'm looking forward to seeing them and teaching them in person again, there are certain things you can't do in your living room," she said.

Or in your kitchen, which is why Ayoub Mashal's family opened The Kabob House two years ago after moving to Boise from Afghanistan.

"We moved here from our country four years ago and Boise is the most we felt at home," Mashal said.

"The first month, we didn't have any plan, like what to do, everything we know was just to serve food inside and everyone was just coming for the view and to just sit down with their family," Mashal said.

Without much of an online presence, Mashal says they've lost about 50% of their revenue.

"This is where we put all our everything in, like all of our savings and everything," he said. "It's a family business and all of our family is working here, starting from my brothers, my sisters, my mom, my dad, everyone, we don't have any employees, it's just all family-run."

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Though putting the family in debt with a loan wasn't what they wanted to do, Marshal says it's been a good thing.

"Right now our community has been helping us a lot so they would just come in and they will even donate money too for the restaurant," he said.

The good news: The Kabob House is hoping to reopen on Friday.

"We got a lot of people calling for reservations and they can't wait to come inside and enjoy meals with their family," he said.

A couple of doors down from The Kabob House, Whitney Fredin's catering company would typically be getting ready for a busy wedding season.

"[In] spring, we start meeting with brides, planning weddings for the summer," she said. "May, June, July, we start getting really busy with weddings, except for this year."

Most have either been canceled or postponed.

But Fredin says she's been able to shift her business model by making meals for neighbors.

"Immediately, as soon as COVID hit, I went back to my roots and I said, 'OK, we're going to just do dinners for people.'"

"It was a quick pivot because we were familiar with what we needed to do."

That pivot has kept her bills paid, for the most part.

"We're probably at about 30% of our revenue that we normally would have with events," she said. "But my only goal through this was to keep my employees employed and to pay the bills. If I had to take a pay cut I didn't really care. We've been able to do that and probably a little more than that, so it's worked out pretty well for us."

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"I feel like I have a little survivors guilt because everybody else is struggling and I just think, 'we got this, it's fine, we're gonna be fine,'" she said.

Fredin says while she isn't ready to fully open quite yet, she feels like these last two months have actually helped spark creativity.

"For me, the innovation around this is kind of invigorating and fun and it helps me, it keeps things going."

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