The San Juan Islands

When the coronavirus known as COVID-19 became a pandemic earlier this year, the San Juan Islands responded with compassion and ingenuity. Sewing circles churned out cloth masks by the dozens, restaurants kept food banks well-supplied, and distillers switched to sanitizer instead of spirits.  

Other ‘signs of the times’ were, quite literally, signs. Heart-shaped cutouts expressing peace, love and encouragement were taped to benches and business doors around Friday Harbor, and chalk drawings supporting essential workers appeared in the parking lots of the post office and grocery stores. All these acts of kindness were accomplished late at night by “angels” costumed as butterflies. 

The following are examples of how island businesses have kept the candles of commerce burning as COVID challenges continue in our county. 

How Doe Bay Wine Company Expanded into an International Market 

Wine makes for an excellent antidote to all the coronavirus news, and Doe Bay Wine Company on Orcas Island has helped with the creation of a Weekly Wine Club and twice-weekly live Instagram sessions with winemakers around the world. Customers watch and interact with these personalities and then order through the shop to have wine delivered the next day (if they are local). Each week they also email out a list of favorite wines that focus on small producers, sustainable practices and excellent values.  

Owner Cole Sisson says, “We highlight regions, winemakers and wineries that we’ve interacted with on our journey. We encourage you to step outside your comfort zone. Drinking can be an adventure in your glass. And we love adventures.”   

This and other creative solutions have allowed Doe Bay to do more than survive, they’ve created a thriving market. For more information, and to order wine to be shipped regionally or delivered locally, email Cole or visit  

Fermented Love & Community Care, the Story of Ursa Minor 

Ursa Minor on Lopez
Photo by Stephanie Forrer

Lopez Island’s favorite hyper-local restaurant, Ursa Minor, and its chef Nick Coffey, have garnered international attention and drawn clientele from around the world, but that’s not a lot of help during a pandemic. Here’s what they’ve done to creatively stay afloat.  

“When our dining room was forced to close in mid-March, we knew that our survival depended upon immediate action. Beautifully plated conceptual dishes just didn’t seem appropriate at the time, so we launched “Comfort Food To-Go,” comforting meals for uncertain times. Something we had thought would only be temporary lasted 16 weeks, and to this day we are still serving up fried chicken to-go,” related Nova Askue, Ursa Minor co-owner.  

Nick Coffey, Chefowner
Photo by Barbara Marrett

“In the early days of the pandemic, we were working 24/7 on any project that we thought would keep us and similar businesses afloat and appeal to a grieving customer base, because we are all grieving someone or something we’ve lost during this pandemic. We started churning out pints of ice cream, take & bake lasagnas, and when the 4th of July came around, (a holiday that traditionally brings a lot of business), we curated take-home grill kits for our customers.  

A customer of ours expressed the desire to pick up a bag of groceries with his take-out meal. Thus, our “Bag of Provisions” was born, a curated selection of local goods to get you through the week. The Bag of Provisions allows us the opportunity to continue to support our local farmers and food vendors.  

Ursa Minor on Lopez
Photo by Stephanie Forrer

We knew we weren’t the only business unsure of the future, so we collaborated with our local bakery and included sweet treats with every take-out order. This helped raise our ticket average and created a steady stream of income for our friends at Holly B’s Bakery. We have since morphed that into a new product line of ice cream sandwiches available for purchase on our take-out menu, made with Ursa Minor ice cream & sweet corn cookies from Holly B’s Bakery. Some say eating one is a spiritual experience!  

Serendipitously, we had launched an Ursa Minor Ferments program back in January, a line of fermented veggies made with local produce and packaged for at-home consumption. We were able to expand that program by first selling through our online web shop (that we created literally overnight on day 3 of the shutdown), and then at the local farmer’s market.  

We also benefited from the Lopez Island Family Resource Center partnership with nineteen local restaurants and farmers. The Center has purchased food and produce to help support our businesses and local economy, while simultaneously providing healthy food to low-income, vulnerable community members. Along with other restaurants, for five months straight, we made 64 meals and 100 pints of soup weekly to feed locals.  

If there’s anything that this pandemic has taught us, it’s working collectively to survive is the key to our community’s future. We don’t know when our dining room will re-open, but we will continue to adapt our business accordingly and collaborate with our neighbors in order to make sure our local economy survives this setback.” Contact: Nova Askue,  (Editors note, as of this writing, San Juan County’s in-door dining is allowed to be open at 50%, outdoor dining may be open at full capacity with social distancing in place. Some restaurants, such as Ursa Minor, are doing takeout only). 

Pelindaba Lavender Farm — A natural balm 

Harvest at Pelindaba Lavender
Photo by RJ

Pelindaba in the Zulu language means a place of great gatherings. “By nature, we embrace our guests and invite them to “great gatherings” during our lavender festival in July. We also invite visitors from around the globe to luxuriate in their experience at the farm and remain as long as they like. However, this season we had to think creatively in order to stay open and keep the safety of our staff and visitors at the forefront,” said marketing director Amelia Powell Baggett. 

“Although the festival was canceled, the lavender was still in bloom and our farm became a calming mecca for visitors to San Juan Island. Its over 20 acres provide ample space for visitors to safely enjoy the blooming fields of lavender at a social distance. At the Gatehouse Farm Store, visitors are greeted at the door and provided all they need for a safe visit inside, including mandatory masks. We promise visitors will still be able to smell the lavender through their masks! A one-way path meanders throughout the old farmhouse with distance markers ensuring each visitor has the opportunity to safely see and experience all of our 200 handcrafted lavender products and the educational materials about lavender.  

In response to COVID, we brought the most popular seasonal offerings out of doors and directly amidst the blooming fields of lavender! Visitors can enjoy a variety of lavender ice creams, sorbet, cookies and beverages from a newly designed farm stand. Here, we also offer tools and instructions for harvesting your own lavender from cutting fields, or provide fresh cut bouquets of lavender for purchase. Scattered throughout the fields are seating areas in both full sun and shade to relax, picnic and take in the surrounding splendor.  

Visitors are coming for respite from a weary world and are leaving feeling refreshed after having experienced one of the world’s most powerfully healing plants–especially renowned for its calming properties. Customers express abundant gratitude to us for the Farm remaining open, allowing an experience that changes their focus from COVID challenges to one of relaxation. 

For more information: Amelia Powell Baggett, 

Earthbox Inn and Spa — Your Fall Curriculum Starts Here 

Earthbox Inn & Spa in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is inviting guests to bring their classrooms to the Islands. “With most of the West Coast’s schools offering virtual learning only this fall, why stay in the city? Why not take advantage of the breathtaking beauty and the abundant learning opportunities of gorgeous San Juan Island?” asks Earthbox owner, Laura Saccio. 

Earthbox is offering a package which includes room discounts, and discounts on whale watching and kayaking trips (learn about the Salish Sea, the habitat and challenges of our beloved orca whales).  

In town, visit The Whale Museum which provides education about protecting whales and the surrounding ecosystem. Hike, bike and kayak in our state parks. And, learn about the “Pig War,” a peaceful territorial dispute, at the San Juan Island National Historical Park. The Park’s two units, at American Camp and English Camp, offer a Junior Ranger program as well as waterfront and forest hiking.  A brand-new interpretive center is scheduled to open at American Camp in 2021.  

Complimentary Earthbox Bikes

A discount to one of Friday Harbor’s restaurants will be included in the package because local, seasonal food is important for intellectual activity. Earthbox’s retro motor inn has reliable high-speed internet. Their day spa offers relaxing massages and facials for parents while the kids are in virtual school. An indoor pool and complimentary beach cruiser bikes provide exercise opportunities right from your doorstep. Kids under 12 stay for free and Earthbox offers pet-friendly rooms. They are paving the way for a family-friendly fall, but the romantic seaside village of Friday Harbor is perfect for couples and singles as well. 

The Earthbox Inn & Spa is three blocks from the ferry dock in Friday Harbor and very close to the Friday Harbor airport. With over 30 restaurants, shops, galleries and the Saturday Farmer’s Market in walking distance you don’t need a car to explore the town. “Our cute coastal town is so safe, you can even let your teenagers loose for a few hours without getting your heart rate up,” concluded owner Laura Saccio. 

For more information please contact Laura Saccio at  Earthbox Inn & Spa, Bird Rock Hotel  

This is a small sampling of how businesses are surviving in the Islands, many more stories are unfolding daily. We ask all visitors to adhere to local safety guidelines, including wearing masks in business and public places. Find more information and to take our “Stay-Safe” pledge, please visit our travel advisory page 

“Cheers to everyone else dealing with personal and professional COVID challenges.” – Barbara Marrett, Communications and Stewardship manager, San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau. And thanks to unending diversion and comic relief from her Zoom star cat, “Spanky!”
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