Covid 19 ushered in unprecedented times, took our local economies by storm ad left small businesses facing devastating challenges. No one could have anticipated how 2020 would unfold. It would have been impossible to comprehend a global pandemic let alone having to navigate through it. We all scrambled in our different ways to figure out the new ‘normal’, if that’s what we’re calling it.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with two small business owners who have showed tremendous innovation, determination, and generosity through this historic event.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon, I met with Lolita and Conrado Casallo Sr., owners of Mendez Casallo Farms at the Pixel Parlour studios in historic Kent, WA. The Mendez Casallo Farms have managed a lucrative fresh flower business at Seattle’s Pike Street Market since 1983. But the story doesn’t start there.
Lolita’s family has a rich history in the Kent Valley, beginning with her great uncle who immigrated from Philippines in 1929. He was attracted to the its thriving agriculture and farming community.
Back in the 1920-30’s, the Kent Valley was known as the lettuce capital of the world. In fact, dating back to 1934, Kent celebrated its annual Lettuce Festival marked by a parade through downtown, themed floats, lettuce ‘royalty” and showed off the world’s largest salad. With the region’s mild climate, transportation infrastructure and proximity to Seattle and Tacoma, Kent became know for it’s wealthy abundance. The Lettuce Festival was later renamed as Kent Cornucopia Days
In the 1940’s during WWII, Japanese-American farmers in the valley had been forced into internment camps. The farmers turned operations over to the Filipino immigrants employed by them. Today, the farms are largely operated by Filipino and Hmong farmers.
Lolita immigrated to the Kent Valley in 1983, followed by Conrado shortly after. They lease a farming parcel subsidized by King County along the Kent/Auburn border which is primarily managed by Lolita and Conrado, with occasional help from their kids and extended family.
One of the original flower businesses at the market, the success of their business inspired other farmers, specifically the Hmong community, to shift from selling vegetables to flowers. Today, you will see as many flower vendors as veggies with strong competition.
The Covid 19 lockdown forced the closure of the Pike Street public market leaving merchants no place to sell their goods.
Enter innovation, resiliency and the power of social media. Like many small businesses, the farmers in the Kent Valley were busy tending to the business, but not using social media to leverage their businesses.
Pixel Parlour Studios is a creative agency specializing in photography, brand strategies and social media.
Owner Abby Laguidao is also Filipino. Together they formed a partnership using social media platforms to promote Mendez Casallo flowers, and the studio on 1st Ave in Kent as the pick-up location.
The addition of flowers enhances the positive impression of the Pixel Parlour brand; social media expands the reach of Mendez Casallo customers and provides a 2nd selling location. When the Pike Street Market reopens, Lolita expects to continue flower sales in Kent.
This conscience coupling is a perfect example of the how the value of partnerships and outside-the-box thinking leads to successes amidst a global pandemic. Small businesses are truly the backbone of a community. The lock down and economic climate has been stressful and challenging to say the least, but as businesses band together and tighten up, they find niches that will help find new ways to do business and weather these strange times.
You can find Mendez Casallo Farms on Facebook and Pixel Parlour at their website and Facebook.
The Kent Downtown Partnership is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Our mission is to strengthen commerce and promote growth in historic downtown Kent through programs and events that celebrate our unique and diverse community and culture.