Business: Meet the Mulan Family Grocery Store in Bellevue, WA

Interviewer: Emily Feng; April 20, 2020

Interviewee's name has been removed for privacy.

The Mulan Family Grocery Store is in Bellevue, WA. Prior to the outbreak, they operated at a physical location (Google Maps).

Could you tell us about yourself and your occupation? How does your occupation impact the local community?

I’m the owner of a small grocery store in Bellevue, Washington. We have a selection of items that generally caters towards the Asian American community in Bellevue. We have both fresh produce as well as dry items.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, we operated at a physical location for 4 days a week. Our business has a very personalized business model, and we rely on social media advertising to get in contact with our customers. Typically, from Monday-Wednesday, we will get the word out about fresh produce, and arrange pick-ups with interested customers. From Thursday-Sunday, customers will come in to purchase their food.

How has COVID-19 affected the functioning of your organization?

For starters, we have had way less customers. Linked to that has been a decline in employees. We’ve had to lay off employees both due to narrowing profits and because of the health risk. I think it’s important to remain cognizant of people’s home situations. Many of our employees have families, and health is not an individual issue, but something that broadly impacts their loved ones.

On the other hand, overheads like rent do not disappear. For that reason, I’ve had to keep the business running. The demand for food does not go away during a pandemic, either. Thus, as of current, our business is being run by my family. Our house has become the pick-up point for customers instead of the physical store.

Luckily, we’d used online platforms prior to COVID-19, and could reach out to many of our old customers. People will let us know what produce they expect, and show up to our house to receive their orders. Of course, people aren’t buying a lot nowadays, and we have maybe 15 customers per week. I like to see the silver lining in things, and I’ve realized that this decline is both inevitable and necessary. We want to limit our contact with others.

COVID-19 has been particularly difficult on grocery stores, as food is constantly a necessity (The Packer).

If you are willing to share, how has COVID-19 affected you individually and your family? Is there anything others can do to help ease problems encountered by your grocery store?

There isn’t much people can do, but that’s probably for the best. I don’t believe we can receive employees or volunteers at this time, since this would pose a health risk to everyone. Without employees, we are doing all of the work by ourselves. Our whole family is extremely tired due to this whole situation, both emotionally and physically.

To offer a view into how work is done nowadays: most of the produce that we receive comes in large packages. As we aren’t selling to large restaurants or caterers, we need to separate these bundles into smaller, more manageable packages. That’s a lot of manual labor, but we don’t want to place anybody in a compromising position. Even aside from the public health risk, I would feel immensely guilty if I asked people to volunteer for us. We aren’t doing charity work, and I doubt ordinary people want to commit themselves to such a grueling task.

What is the greatest lesson we can learn from this outbreak?

First and foremost, I think that educating ourselves about public health is extremely important. When COVID-19 first emerged in Washington, most people didn’t concern themselves with the rapid rate of spread. It was common to see those wearing masks being made fun of. Many brushed it off and refused to adopt caution. If we had been able to humble ourselves and recognize that the world is changing far faster than we can imagine, a lot of these horrible consequences (failing small businesses, widespread death, etc.) would maybe have been prevented.