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Drive thru saving grace for bakery during COVID-19

‘We never thought it’d be the lifeline of our business’

When the drive thru window was added to the Village Bakery during its creation, Brion Brooks never thought it would be the business’s lifeline.

That’s just what it has become during the COVID-19 pandemic. With most other businesses opening their doors after the initial stay-at-home order, the Village Bakery in Oregon has stayed closed indoors in the interest of protecting its workers, many of whom have developmental disabilities that make them more susceptible to the virus.

Customers have only been served through the drive thru window since March.

“I would guess our business has been half or two-thirds of what it was before all this,” Brooks, the Village of Progress director, said. “But we’ve been blown away at how many people are doing it. It didn’t get used much before. It was 10-15 percent of our sales, maybe.”

The Village of Progress runs the bakery. It’s one of its many programs that include job readiness instruction, job site training, help with integration into the work environment, and counseling to address job behaviors for people with developmental disabilities.

Brooks said one of the goals of the bakery was to foster a relationship between the community and people with disabilities. That has become harder with just the drive thru window. But the value is still there with being able to stay open, allowed by the drive thru window, he said.

“We still are hiring and employing people with disabilities to work there,” Brooks said. “The work is much less interactive with the public. The most contact now is taking the order through the window. It just doesn’t have the same feel as a face-to-face interaction. I’m glad we get to be open, though.”

Once it’s safe, Brooks said he’d love to reopen the inside of the bakery, which was known for its sense of community before the pandemic.

The employees of the bakery have that desire to reopen fully, too.

“They all wish we could reopen and see the people who come into the store and have conversations,” Brooks said. “Most people we hire are very people-oriented. It’s something they miss.”

Brooks called the bakery “fortunate” that it has the luxury of a drive thru when most businesses in town don’t.

As far as the status of the business, the Village of Progress and the bakery got a payroll protection program loan in the spring which has been a “lifeline” to stop layoffs. For two months, checks were still sent to staff that wasn’t coming into work.

Not being open inside has reduced staff levels. Between that decrease in expenses and sales not dropping off drastically, the losses have been lessened, Brooks said.

“We’re not overly concerned,” Brooks said. “As long as this fades away in the next 6-9 months. It’s partly a business and partly a program. It doesn’t have to make us money during the pandemic.”

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