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Medical Lake businesses offer mixed messages

COVID’s fallout hurting some, making others take innovative survival steps


Last updated 12/30/2020 at 10:26am

MEDICAL LAKE — Gerri Johnson from Medical Lake’s Farm Salvation business traces her retail roots back to the time when her family operated a small business Spokane.

And she’s translated that experience to today as she tries to steer both her business, and lend whatever assistance that background provides to others in the community amidst the fallout from COVID-19.

Johnson’s step-dad, a military vet, operated a business known as Current Outdoor Power Equipment (C.O.P.E.) first on North Division where the Tomato Street Restaurant now resides.

“It was a family business,” Johnson said. “Each one of us as children learned all of the what it took.” And because of the family military ties conversations with customers always included “No, sir, Yes, ma’am.”

Johnson and Medical Lake resident Terri Cooper — Court Administrator and Commissioner for the Cheney Municipal Court — are step sisters. They share laughs sometimes about their learning customer service learning curve and how it serves in times like these.

“In order to serve the West Plains, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder,” Johnson said, all in the midst of the challenge of a pesky virus, and the threat that having an Amazon Fulfillment Center just down the road.

The tightness and uniqueness of the Medical Lake community seems certainly very special and Johnson thinks it can be a crucial element in emerging out of the tunnel they’ve been traveling through for the better part of a year, now.

That Medical Lake community has always extended north to Fairchild Air Force Base as a good number of personnel and their families call the city home.

“I’ve got a couple of the Fairchild officers wives that have just taken up a real interest in my store,” Johnson said.

One of them asked, “How many spouses do you have shopping with you?” Not many was the short answer as people in general — not just those at Fairchild — tend to easily bypass the businesses that are in the community and head either to Airway Heights or Spokane.

“And she said, we are going to change that,” Johnson said.

Johnson has been fortunate, perhaps more than some, in the community. And there’s concern for some in the small group of businesses who make up the retail heartbeat in Medical Lake.

“So as far as others in our community, throughout this time I’ve had owners that have really struggled with ‘How are we going to pay rent? How are we going to pay salaries, and they’ve really struggled with those kinds of things,’” Johnson said. Government funding, while seemingly substantial sounding in chunks of $20,000, might only pay a couple of months of rent.

But as the tight-knit Medical Lake community often does with other community needs — fundraisers like Dollars for Scholars or the Medical Lake Booster Club — they answer the call.

“I’ve watched the community reach out and say, how can we help?,” Johnson said. Residents have supported local business with the purchase of gift cards and certificates.

Businesses in return have put themselves in front of the public by participating in events such the Halloween Fall Festival, a drive-through activity where kids picked up candy, and additional goodies.

The Lefevere Street Bakery Café added complimentary cotton candy, The Fishchn’ Hole gave out hot dogs and the Pizza Factory hot chocolate or apple cider packet after wondering how they could participate. The kids said that was the best Halloween ever.

“Under the circumstances, who would have imagined they would have said that?,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who doubles as the president of the civic promotional organization, Re*Imagine Medical Lake, is pushing their own slogan to urge support of local business. With Small Business Saturday expanded this year to encompass all of December, she said R*IML is running with “Shop small and stand tall with us all,” throughout the holidays — and beyond.

In full disclosure, Johnson said the slogan is partially borrowed .

“I saw — not sure if it was a state city, county somewhere in the Midwest — you know, whatever that said, shop small stand tall. But it was not with us all,” Johnson explained.

Johnson shared another jingle, with a similar tune, but different message. “With us you know, it’s either we all stand or we’re all gonna’ fall.”

Paul Delaney is a retired former Free Press reporter and can be reached at


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