New West Knifeworks

At the New West KnifeWorks factory in Victor, Idaho, employees cleanse their shoes with a bleach solution before entering.

Hole Note Music Academy closing

The Hole Note Music Academy will move out of its studio this week, fulfill commitments to piano students through May and then, after a breather, ponder a possible return to business.

The combination of high rent and dwindling revenue during the pandemic proved to be too much for the Smith’s Plaza business.

“We’re very sad,” said Christy Marsteller, founder and lead instructor. “It’s a big hit.”

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, Marsteller ended live classes a week before spring break and then, after the break, shifted lessons to the Zoom platform.

Though she has a “fair number” of elderly customers, most Hole Note students are kids. With business shutdowns and employee layoffs, many family budgets no longer had room for music lessons. And with children now being schooled at home, moms and dads have extra work overseeing their lessons.

“We lost a lot of students,” Marsteller said. “It’s really hard for parents. ... They just can’t handle one more thing.”’

Klair Van Slyke, whose daughters Katherine, 8, and Angelina, 7, have been taking piano lessons at The Hole Note, said she’s sad to see what’s happening in the small business community and to Marsteller’s studio in particular.

“This is terrible,” she said. “We love her.”

Though the group classes were good, Van Slyke said she has appreciated the Zoom sessions as well. Her daughters have thrived on the Hole Note’s piano teaching.

“They’ve gotten so good,” she said. “The program has been great.”

Marsteller said she was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan and an economic injury disaster loan, but those aren’t enough to keep the business going in the long term.

The PPP loan rules, for example, require most of the money to go to payroll, and the amount left over wouldn’t cover even a month’s rent, Marsteller said. She has gone from three employees to one, so “the ratios don’t work.”

But the good thing is that “between those two it’s definitely allowing me to keep my teacher right now.”’

Marsteller aims to vacate her space in the next week. Uncertainty is playing a big role.

“If I knew I could have students in here in two weeks my decision might look different,” she said.

Though she never had more than six students in at a time and was scrupulous about keeping the studio clean, Marsteller said it’s hard to say how long it will take for the public to feel comfortable again.

“People are just so fearful right now,” she said. “I don’t get the feeling that people are ready to jump back in.”

It’s too soon to say how The Hole Note might reemerge.

“I’m just trying to get to June,” Marsteller said.

She’ll regroup this summer and see if she can reopen.

“I just don’t know what it will look like.”

— Jennifer Dorsey

KnifeWorks factory reopens, carefully

Employees at the New West KnifeWorks factory in Victor, Idaho, arrive at work at staggered times and clock in on their cellphones.

They leave their outerwear in their car, clean their shoes outside the front door with a bleach solution, use a foot-propelled door opener to enter the building and rub sanitizer on their hands the minute they are through the door.

They don coveralls, wash their hands, put on respirators, goggles and gloves and cleanse their stations with bleach solution before starting their job.

Only a limited number of employees are in the shop at the same time, and they stay 6 feet apart. At lunchtime they eat alone in their cars or outside.

Those are just some of the protocols New West KnifeWorks implemented to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus when the factory reopened April 13.

Getting back to producing knives was a turnaround from mid-March, when the pandemic forced New West KnifeWorks to close its retail stores in Jackson; Victor; Park City, Utah; and Napa, California.

New West also closed the knife factory because of worries about employee safety and reduced demand. In two weeks the business went from 35 employees to eight.

“We are just too small to keep paying employees without revenue,” founder Corey Milligan said in a press release. “We would have been dead in a month.”

But then online orders at a normally slow time of year soared 250% and the company received positive attention for its We Are Jackson Hole campaign that promoted safety measures and free hand sanitizer.

Also making it possible to get back to work was a Paycheck Protection Program loan, a Small Business Administration offering that Congress has funded through COVID-19 emergency rescue packages.

“Operations at the factory were also bolstered by PPP funding,” New West KnifeWorks said. “The program has helped propel nearly 30 employees back to work, with more being added in the near future.”

The company made a video of its pandemic protocols. You can see it at TinyURL.com/ybwm3o3y.

— Jennifer Dorsey

Contact Jennifer Dorsey at jennifer@jhnewsandguide.com or 732-5908.

Jennifer Dorsey is chief copy editor and Business section coordinator. She worked in Washington, D.C., and Chicago before moving to the Tetons.

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