When the pandemic first hit the area, the phone at Budget Septic and Drain began ringing.
Customers were calling to withdraw their orders for hand-washing and sanitizing stations because they had canceled their events.
“The phone rang off the hook and we took a serious amount of cancellations,” said Keith Galland, who owns the business with his wife, Lori. “We were quite concerned — that represented a substantial amount of business throughout summer.”
For years the business had supplied hand-washing and sanitizing stations to large events across Yakima County, such as those held outdoors at Legends Casino in Toppenish, downtown festivals in Yakima and wine tasting events up and down the Valley.
The business also provides portable toilets for special events. All that was brought to a halt when skyrocketing COIVD-19 cases prompted Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.
But there was a flip side to the disruption.
Many area businesses began ordering hand-washing stations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’re getting 40 calls a day from people looking for hand-washing and sanitizing stations,” Lori said. “Everyone wants hand sanitizer and sinks and stuff now. Some of them have to have it in order to comply, in order to stay open.”
Situated off of U.S. Highway 97 halfway between Toppenish and Wapato, the business also services septic tanks, sewer lines, sink drains in homes and businesses throughout the county.
The Gallands have owned and operated the business for 22 years. They have four full-time workers.
Service calls to homes have increased since the pandemic, Lori said.
“We can only guess what that was from,” Lori said. “But septic pumping has been very busy and very steady, and the only thing we can correlate it to is people who had a system on a verge that needed servicing — you stick everyone and the kids at home — then you’ve pushed it over the edge.”
Despite that surge in calls, overall business is down compared to last year at this time, Keith said.
“It’s just not to the severity we had anticipated when this first happened, when we first went into the shutdown,” he said. “We didn’t know if we we’re going to shut down.”
Short on supplies
Sanitizer, hand soap, toilet paper and other supplies needed in large quantities are hard to acquire these days, Lori said. She ordered additional supplies in February in anticipation increasing need, but the supplies didn’t arrive until July.
“It took that long to get them,” she said. “Usually you can drive to Portland and get them in a couple of days.”
Toilet paper prices shot up $13 a case, and it was nearly impossible to get soap to refill soap pouches in dispensaries, she said.
Luckily they had plenty of hand sanitizer stockpiled from a previous order. “It’s not just here, it’s all across the county — the demand and need,” Lori said.
Changes at the business
The business is a longtime supporter of local 4-H and FFA programs and regularly sponsors students who participate.
Lori was involved in 4-H as a youth. Even though events were canceled this year, the Gallands still sponsored students who wrote a letter seeking support.
“It was a wonderful thing for me and that’s probably why I feel a need to give back to that,” Lori said.
As of early September, the business wasn’t allowing its workers to enter homes to clear sinks or other drains. Workers were only servicing exterior drains, lines and tanks.
“We’re trying to protect our employees,” Lori said. “Two have elderly parents who live with them. We’ll eventually go back into homes, but it’s got to be safe for guys to do that.”
Employees wear masks and have been given bonuses to work through the pandemic.
“Every day they know they’re appreciated because we know they could stay home,” Keith said of his workers. “To have them show up every day, we just appreciate them very much.”
More chlorine is mixed into hand-washing solutions and there’s an unprecedented emphasis on hand-washing and sanitizing — a change that may remain well into the future, Lori said.
Either way, Keith is still hoping for some return to normalcy.
“I don’t know, I would like to say that things will go back to normal,” he said. “My hope is they will, but it just remains to be seen.”