Oso businesses suffer as customers stop coming around

OSO, Wash. -- For the past several months Aaron Hall and his family have been tending hundreds of plants in their greenhouse to sell at their roadside stand. The trouble is that ever since a landslide smothered Highway 530 last month, traffic past the Fruitful Farm & Nursery has dried up.

"A good 80 percent of our customers went through here on this highway, and since this has been closed they are using alternate routes," Hall said. "So we're losing the majority of our customer base."

Businesses throughout Oso report the same problem, including The Restaurant at Rhodes River Ranch. Owner Bonnie Rose says only a third of the usual number of customers came in for Easter brunch.

Senator Maria Cantwell wants to help. She joined Maria Contreras-Sweet, the head of the Small Business Administration (SBA), to find solutions for moving forward.

"We want to understand if there are creative ways to help the economy of Arlington, Oso and Darrington," Sen. Cantwell said.

Cantwell and Contreras-Sweet heard from the mayors of Darrington and Arlington, and from small business owners about the impacts on local retailers, banks, cafes and others. They then covered the various assistance programs available through the SBA and other federal resources.

The SBA is best known for it's low-interest business loans, but Aaron Hall is leery of borrowing money when no one is shopping at his stand.

"If we're missing customers, why would we want to go into further debt," he said.

Hall says one way to help is to suspend the rules on displaying signage. He says it would help to be allowed to advertise in town at busy intersections, and remind people they are open for business on the outskirts.

"It's a great way to support the businesses out here, to come and visit and purchase," Hall said, who officailly opens his stand on May 9.

The SBA has already approved nearly $400,00 in aid to the region and the deadline for businesses is June 2, 2014