Local business leaders react to students’ return to Pullman

Owners of The Coug, Roost, Glassphemy experiencing some success but wary of rise in COVID-19 cases



Students pack into historic college bar, The Coug, on Aug. 23, 2021. Per Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate, masks are required in all indoor settings unless patrons are actively consuming food or drink.

NICK GIBSON, Evergreen roots editor

For the past couple of weeks, WSU students have been pouring into Pullman for the start of the 2021-22 school year. For local business leaders, they are a sight for sore eyes. 

“We do have a core group of community members who live here all year, so we never want to discount them, but many of our businesses rely heavily on that influx of faculty, staff, students and visitors each fall,” said Marie Dymkoski, Pullman Chamber of Commerce executive director. 

Over 20,000 WSU students arrive in Pullman each August, flooding the local economy with an influx of cash and labor. That is, until 2020, when WSU’s switch to remote operations turned Pullman into a ghost town and left many local businesses struggling to hang on. 

Now they are hoping the return of students means the start of a bustling downtown — as long as the Delta variant stays away.

Jon Binninger,Roost Coffee & Market co-owner, said the transition into the busy season has gone smoothly. Roost recently expanded its space to offer more seating and plan on expanding its menu over the next few weeks to cater to students’ diverse tastes. 

Roost Coffee & Market recently expanded its space at 125 SE Spring St. in downtown Pullman.

 Binninger said that unlike other businesses both here in town and nationally, he has had no issues filling his staff.

“Pullman is a real vibrant, growing community with a great downtown,” Binninger said. “It’s just getting busy and we’re just proud to be part of that downtown community and excited to grow and be successful with it.”

Over on the retail side of things, businesses have been a little slower to recover. Willow Falcon, Glassphemy and Noshies owner, said sales are still nowhere near where they were pre-pandemic. Her staff is currently half the size it was back in spring 2020.

“It’s not like I expected, I had definitely planned on more traffic when the students came back,” Falcon said. “I’m fortunate that the staff that I have are happy to stay, but I usually have a big stack of resumes right now and I don’t have hardly any. I’d like to hire someone at Noshies, but nobody’s walking in the door looking for work.”

Falcon said she is hopeful business continues to improve, but she’s wary of the Delta variant and what an outbreak could mean for the community here in Pullman. She would like to see the community come together in the continuing fight against COVID-19.

I want Pullman in general to feel more united,” Falcon said. “I really love it when the community all bands together and rallies around their Cougars. I like that spirit, that camaraderie and I’d like to see more of it. I wish more people could step outside of themselves and appreciate their neighbors more.” 

Owner Willow Falcon opened Noshies, downtown’s only bottle shop, in 2018.

Falcon isn’t the only local business owner worried about the rising prevalence of the Delta variant. Bob Cady, The Coug owner, said business has been on pace with what it was back in 2019, but he doubts that’ll continue into the fall. 

“I am not holding out any hope for the rest of the fall,” Cady said. “As things are currently trending, statewide we’re already beyond the number of COVID-19 cases we had at the peak of the pandemic last December.” 

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee reinstated his indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status in an effort to curb the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases in Washington state. Masks are now required indoors at bars and restaurants like The Coug, and Cady said patrons have been complying willingly. The mandate does allow people to take off their mask if they are actively consuming food or drinking a beverage. 

Every fall, Cady counts on football games to drive sales at The Coug, as visitors come from all over to cheer on the Cougars at Martin Stadium. But this year, Cady is not sure football games will be happening at all. 

“It’d be cool if football happened, but I’m not banking on it,” Cady said. “I’m not buying anything or investing in any equipment with the expectation of football actually ending up being a thing. I would love it if things just kinda kept going smoothly, but you know, reality is reality and who knows what’s going to happen?”