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Commerce officials seek feedback from businesses on effects of COVID-19 pandemic

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The executive director of the state Commerce Department talked with Pawhuska business owners and managers last week, asking how the COVID-19 pandemic had affected their companies, as well as about whether government aid had significantly helped them.

Pawhuska Chamber Executive Joni Nash joined Brent Kisling, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, and another department staff member for a walking visit Sept. 23 to the city's downtown business district.

Cathi Ball, owner of the Mariposa boutique on Kihekah Avenue, told Kisling that her store had to close for two months. Ball said that she had been selling down her merchandise, in anticipation that her location would be used during the shooting of a movie based on the bestselling book "Killers of the Flower Moon," but she still took a hit from the COVID-19 shutdown that began in the middle of March.

Ball explained that March through August, not the Christmas season, is her prime sales window and the shutdown cut her off in mid-stride. Ball said government aid in response to the COVID-19 pandemic paid the wages of her store manager, Kaitlyn Flanary, who put the store online. Ball credited Alan Brown, her banker at Blue Sky Bank, with helping her navigate the process of applying for aid.

"Saturday (Sept. 19), there were large numbers of people," Ball said, commenting that customer traffic has picked up considerably at Mariposa since she reopened. "So this place is clean."

Ball said she makes an effort to engage in constant cleaning of the premises, to ensure customer safety.

"People aren't afraid to come in here because it's so clean," Ball said.

Kisling told Ball that the lack of an online presence is a major problem that small Oklahoma businesses are having to address.

Roslynn "Ros" Jackson, owner of the Gypsy Cowgirl, located in the 700 block of Kihekah, told Kisling and Commerce Department staff member Jared Cooper that business has been picking up, but conditions have been tough.

"It's been a tough road, but the government has helped out tremendously," Jackson said. She added that she wasn't sure that she would be open now if not for the assistance she received.

"Even now, people are really cautious," Jackson said, commenting on consumer spending. "They are limiting what they're spending."

Jackson said she has begun selling items online to supplement what she's able to accomplish in the store setting.

Kisling also talked at length with Kurtess Mortensen, general manager at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile. Kisling was joined during that portion of the walking tour by two state legislators -- Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, and Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City. The two represent Osage County voters as well as Kay County voters.

Mortensen fielded questions from the Commerce Department officials and legislators about the overall development of The Pioneer Woman businesses in Pawhuska, making particular mention of the high standard of customer service that the businesses have sought to establish.

Mortensen explained that The Pioneer Woman businesses are acutely attuned to responding affirmatively to customer complaints. He indicated that Pioneer Woman retail developments can be expected to continue -- he mentioned the anticipated rollout of a new Ree Drummond clothing line.

While the discussion with Mortensen did not include comments about the importance of government aid, data organized and published online by ProPublica include listings of several Pawhuska entities, including The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, that were approved to receive more than $150,000 each in federal Coronavirus aid. The Osage Nation, Pawhuska Hospital, Help Works and Moore Pipeline Services were also listed in the ProPublica database.