Business

Early Bird owner keeps looking for challenges

'It was like diving from the high board into deep water'

Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette

Brooke Fitzgerald opened the Early Bird Coffee Shop in Cedar Rapids seven years ago and moved it to its new location in the Smulekoff’s building two years ago.
Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette Brooke Fitzgerald opened the Early Bird Coffee Shop in Cedar Rapids seven years ago and moved it to its new location in the Smulekoff’s building two years ago.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Her downtown coffee shop is just one example of Brooke Fitzgerald’s investment in the Cedar Rapids community.

Fitzgerald is president of the Indian Creek Nature Center board, serves on the Metro Area Economic Development Innovative Council, is active on the Mount Mercy alumni board, is a member of Daybreak Rotary and is a driving force behind the Murphy Memorial Golf Tournament, which raises thousands of dollars each year to fight cancer.

She also was named 2017 Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

But her role as owner and “top chickadee” of the Early Bird is perhaps her most visible.

In 2011, when downtown Cedar Rapids was still recovering from the 2008 flood, Fitzgerald left a career in commercial banking to open the Early Bird. As her family’s main breadwinner and with a six-month-old baby at home, she knew she was taking a risk.

“It was like diving from the high board into deep water,” she said.

Undaunted, Fitzgerald recruited her brother, Aaron Murphy, to move back to Cedar Rapids from New York to help her get the business up and running.

“We really tried hard to create a welcoming space, like a living room, where you feel comfortable and can have good conversations,” she said. “As a result, a lot of business happens here organically.”

In 2016, Fitzgerald made a decision to relocate the business to the historic Smulekoff’s building and recreate the same homey environment in a larger space. Presenting even more of a challenge, the 2016 flood occurred during the build-out of the new space, threatening both locations.

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“I was forced with the decision to move everything out (of the original location) or stay,” she said.

“I moved out and didn’t reopen so I could focus on the new space. It ended up being the right decision, but it was very stressful.”

Even as she has dealt with the stresses of business ownership, Fitzgerald has not shied away from involvement in community organizations, as her resume attests.

“As a valid stakeholder in the community, I feel a need to do my part to contribute,” she said.

“Tons of people ask me ‘do you ever say no?’ The truth is I want to say yes. It’s enjoying and rewarding to be an active part of the community and contribute in many capacities.

“It also helps my business when I know the people who walk through the door.”

Earlier this year, Fitzgerald transitioned the day-to-day operations of the Early Bird to two full-time managers and obtained her commercial real estate license. She currently serves as a commercial realtor with Skogman Realty.

“Commercial relationship-building in general has been a passion of mine both as a business owner and in commercial banking,” she said. “Now I’m marrying those two experiences to help others succeed with their businesses.”

l Once a month, Business 380 will spotlight one of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.

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