MARION — When Kara Bullerman arrived at her business, Wit’s End Coffeehouse, after the derecho blew through Iowa with hurricane-force winds on Aug. 10, she was shocked.
“When I saw the building, I couldn’t breathe. The roof was gone, and the front yard was a pile of bricks,” she said.
No one was hurt — staff and customers who were there at the time sheltered in the basement — but the damage to the building at 630 10th St. in Uptown Marion was extensive. Bricks had collapsed into an upstairs bathroom, so water flooded into the space not just from the driving rain but from the broken bathroom fixtures. Kitchen equipment and furniture were ruined.
Now, Bullerman and her co-owners aren’t sure what they’ll do. They hope to reopen, but it might be somewhere new, as they’re still waiting to hear if the building can be saved or will be demolished.
They’re far from alone. The derecho was just one more hurdle that 2020 has thrown at restaurant and other small business owners, many of whom were already struggling to keep their businesses open through the pandemic and accompanying shutdowns. Now, with hundreds of buildings in Cedar Rapids and Marion badly damaged, they are picking up their lives along with the rest of the community.
Bullerman, who is also the city attorney for Marion, bought Wit’s End in September along with her husband, Scott Bullerman, and their friend Ryan Tang. She and Tang would meet there regularly, and they wanted to save the Uptown Marion coffee shop when it went up for sale in 2019.
“We would meet at Wit’s End for London fog lattes,” she said. “It’s such a presence for Marion, and it’s been there for so long. Essentially, we didn’t want to lose our favorite meet up spot.”
Wit’s End has been a fixture of Uptown Marion since 2007. The building is owned by the Marylce Murdoch Trust and managed by Boyd Potter of Potter Real Estate. Bullerman said she is waiting to hear whether the building will be demolished or saved. Either way, the Wit’s End owners have submitted their intention to terminate their lease.
“Our hope is still to reopen. We’re pretty sure it will be in a different location. It’s really difficult to find a building that capture’s Wit’s End’s feel,” Bullerman said. “We would love to stay in Uptown Marion. We love participating in events that take place in the park.”
For now, they’re just trying to find a storage space for what they can salvage from the building and get a dumpster for what they cannot — both of which have been in short supply. What hasn’t been in short supply are well wishes from customers and regulars who have been sharing their memories of the coffee shop. One couple even told her about how they got married there.
“We’ve owned it for less than a year. Between this and COVID, it’s been quite a year of ownership,” she said. “But we’re staying hopeful.”
Jake Brummer and Amy Winker are also staying hopeful. The couple opened Kingston Pub at 729 First Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids about six weeks before the storm hit. It took them three or four months to renovate the space before they opened, Brummer said, and now they’re starting over, after the derecho tore the roof off. Winker and one customer were in the bar at the time and retreated to shelter in the kitchen when something collided with the front window and the doors started shaking.
Now, they’re waiting to hear from the building owner, Kory Nanke, and from their insurance company, before deciding next steps. But Brummer is confident they will reopen. They didn’t do all that work to start their own business to give up now, he said. If they rebuild instead of moving, he hopes they could be back in business in the spring of 2021.
“We were open just long enough to get a good idea that we think we’ve got a good thing going here, and we want to come back,” he said. “If anything, patience is a virtue, and at the end of the day we’ll have a better situation after all this.”
Still, he would prefer 2020 not throw anymore surprises Iowa’s way. But he’s not counting on it.
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“I’m worried to see what the 2020 blizzard looks like. Just about everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, so I’m expecting it.”
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