Business

Small businesses push forward after derecho, coronavirus setbacks

Manager and co-owner Connie Adams pets Brenda, a boxer who is a regular at day care, as she sits in her partition at Paw
Manager and co-owner Connie Adams pets Brenda, a boxer who is a regular at day care, as she sits in her partition at Pawsitive Paws Academy in Cedar Rapids, on March 24. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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“I’m a lot more worried now than I was in March or April, when I thought things might last a few months,” said Connie Adams, co-owner of Pawsitive Paws Academy.

“Now I think it’s going to be the middle of next year.”

Already hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Adams and other small business owners in the Corridor are trying to come back from the added challenges of the Aug. 10 derecho storm.

“Business is slow, unfortunately, but we’re going to push through,” said Michelle Kline, owner of the Potter’s Obsession. “We have our holiday season coming up and we’re not sure how it’s going to go.”

The local resurgence of COVID-19 cases already had prompted suspension of in-person programs at the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy.

“We decided the safest thing was just to close down,” said David Griffin, co-executive director of the not-for-profit that provides programs in the visual and performing arts in Cedar Rapids schools and at its studio.

After shutting down in March, the Academy had begun a cautious return to in-person programs in late June.

Griffin and the organization’s board decided to return to all-online programs shortly after the Aug. 10 derecho, which brought down trees and some fencing at the studio.

“Directly after the storm, of course there was no activity going on,” he said.

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“The (COVID-19) numbers were increasing, and we thought it was the best thing for our students and our staff not to take any more risk.”

Kline celebrated the 20th anniversary of her business, a paint-your-own-pottery studio, just two days before the derecho hit.

“There was one family there,” she recalled. “They rode it out.”

Her studio/shop sustained little damage but was without power for a week, making it impossible to operate its electric kilns.

“September’s always a slower season for us, but it’s even slower this year,” she said.

Jason Rogers observed the one-year anniversary of Doc’s Repairs, his Marion shoe-and-leather-goods repair business, the day before closing for two months due to the pandemic.

He spent the time off maintaining his specialized equipment and rearranging the shop to close off much of its lobby. He adopted a mandatory-mask policy upon reopening.

“If (customers are) uncomfortable with masks, I’ll go out and meet them in the parking lot,” Rogers said.

Rogers estimated business was about 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels over the summer. He’d planned to hire Rich Foens, former owner of Smitty’s Shoe Repair in Marion’s Uptown neighborhood, after Foens closed that 90-year-old shop.

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“We were just getting ready to start bringing him onto the payroll twice a week when this hit,” Rogers recalled. “He’s in a very high-risk group, and we had to cut that.”

Rogers’ shop lost about half its roof in the derecho.

“The building owners, they’re a construction company and they’ve been great,” he said. “In 10 days we had a roof, and in 11 days we had power. I came in and started doing cleanup and doing some (shoe repair) work.”

Rogers’s Marion home sustained damage to its roof and garage.

“We had a lot of neighbors and friends and family who were in much worse shape,” said Rogers, who used his flatbed trailer to haul away debris, and used his barbecue skills to feed the neighborhood.

Since reopening Sept. 8, “It’s been very slow,” Rogers said.

“I’m at maybe 20 percent of what I was before. It’s a tough time to afford advertising, so I’m getting ready to start a social-media campaign.”

The derecho damaged the roof and fencing at Adams’s rented kennel and canine grooming and training facility at 137 30th Street Dr. SE.

“The landlords are still working on it, but getting people out here has been difficult,” she said. “It’s hurt us in almost the same ways as the COVID. We were about 75 percent of what we’d been, and now we’re down from there.”

Adams’s boarding service was hit hard during and after the pandemic quarantine period.

“People aren’t traveling,” she said. “We’ve missed all our major holidays.

“In terms of boarding, we’ve missed spring break, we’ve missed the Fourth of July, we’ve missed Labor Day.”

Social-distancing precautions forced Pawsitive Paws to cut dog-obedience classes in half.

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Adams said she can’t cut staff — the business had 11 employees in normal times — because they’re needed to tend to boarded dogs and cats.

“People are still bringing their dogs in, but not nearly as much,” Adams said.

“Like other places, we’re probably going to have to raise our rates. Expenses go up, and I can’t cut my staff back any more.”

With COVID-19 case numbers showing no signs of abating, the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy has canceled its two major fundraisers — a September golf outing and November’s Harvesting the Arts banquet. The banquet will be a virtual event, as will a Nov. 1-13 online benefit auction.

Details can be viewed on the academy’s website, easterniowaartsacademy.org.

“We’re going to be offering as much programing, but it’s going to be virtual for now,” Griffin said.

After being denied grants under pandemic-relief programs, Rogers hasn’t applied for loans or derecho relief.

“We’re better off than most and it was obvious there were people more in need, and the resources are very limited,” he said. “We’re doing what we can to support others.

“I feel terrible for the restaurants, and the owners of those retail stores. It’s just awful, and there’s no end in sight.”

“I have to hope we can make it back,” Kline said.

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“The (business) anniversary, it was fine. We didn’t do anything like we planned to, but there’s always the 21st year, right?”

Know a business that could make for an interesting “My Biz” feature? Let us know via michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

The Potters’ Obsession

• Owner: Michelle Kline

• Address: 1941 51st St. NE, Cedar Rapids

• Phone: (319) 743-9824

• Website: thepottersobsession.com

Eastern Iowa Arts Academy

• Owner: David Griffin

• Address: 1841 E Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

• Phone: (319) 350-1805

• Website: easterniowaartsacademy.org

Doc’s Repairs

• Owner: Jason Rogers

• Address: 593 62nd St, Suite 110, Marion

• Phone: (319) 455-6757

• Website: facebook.com/docsrepairs/

Pawsitive Paws Academy

• Owners: Chuck and Connie Adams, Dawn Roth

• Address: 137 30th St. Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids

• Phone: (319) 362-1991

• Website: pawsitivepawsacademy.com

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