Union Street Business Rise From the Ashes

By: Austin Collins

Rising from the Ashes was an event held by the Center for Entrepreneurship to teach young entrepreneurs about the importance of being prepared for every situation, including disaster. The event lead off with a brief introduction, given by Lynn Gellermann, Executive Director of TechGROWTH Ohio. He talked about the reasoning behind this event and encouraged students to take notes, as they may need them when they start their own business. Gellermann then turned it over to the panelists to give a description of what damages had been done to their business and how they had coped with them.

Starting off the panelists, Art Oestrike, owner of Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery, talked about how long his business had been running. Almost eleven years ago, Jackie O’s started at 24 West Union Street. After enough growth, they opened Jackie O’s Public House in 2009, the very room where this event was held. He explained there was a lot of growth between 2009 and the fire. They had spread down to not only Stimson Avenue, but also opened various other establishments. Oestrike then told the audience he received a phone call at 4:35am exactly two years ago about a fire that was in the vicinity of Jackie O’s.

”It was one of those horrifying moments of life,” Oestrike said.

The public house room wasn’t in bad shape, but the kitchen couldn’t function for a year and a half. Oestrike said that he had to lay off 80% of the kitchen staff as well as the entire wait staff.

“ People ask me, how is everything now? The answer is that I don’t know yet”, said Oestrike.

Next Eric Gunn, owner of the Union Bar and Grill spoke. He said that they learned pretty quickly after the fire that the building could be rebuilt. At first, he was told it would only take 6-8 months before completion. It took a total of 18 months before they were actually able to reopen for business. Gunn explained that his business was a little different than the others in the fact that he couldn’t just move the Union. The building had been a part of history and you couldn’t just change locations. The only problem with this was the fact that Gunn was unable to start work on other projects while the Union was being rebuilt.

“ I often struggled with the question, Was it worth it? You only have a finite set of years where you have enough energy to tackle these problems. Overall, I’m very pleased with the way it turned out. If there is one thing to take away from this, you can never have enough insurance”, said Gunn.

Natasha Neal, from Jack Neal Floral, had a different story than the others. When they started running Jack Neal Floral, Neal and her husband had taken it over from her husband’s parents. This meant that the business was already developed and had contacts and various resources at their disposal. When the fire struck, Neal had lost all of her inventory and customer records. They had to completely start over and learn everything for the first time. They quickly realized after the fire that they had to find a new place. In early December, they finally found a location and put in enough of their own money to repurpose it to be a flower shop. She explained that now they have taken measures, such as portable data system and sprinklers, to ensure that if there is another disaster, they will be prepared to deal with it.

Neal said,” I don’t think there is much you really can do when a disaster strikes. You have to learn what you can and use it to the best of your abilities to be prepared for it.”

Peter Schooner, Associate Director of Communications for the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, has a different story than any of the other businesses. He actually was the only person in the panel to not own a business. He and his wife actually started a fundraiser for the employees of the affected businesses to help them get back on their feet while they searched for another job.

“We saw the news like everyone else and asked ourselves, what can we do to help these people. My wife came up with the idea to help out the employees that were out of a job by starting a fundraiser”, said Schooner.

Schooner was surprised at how tight knit the community was and the amount of support they showed for these local businesses after this disaster. After the first night, they gained a couple thousand dollars, and over time it accumulated to a total amount of $73,000. Schooner had a meeting with the affected businesses and together they worked to disperse the money equally amongst the workers. Schooner and his wife show how supportive this community can be in times of need.

Meredith Thompson, former employee of Kismet and now current owner of Honey, knows what it is like to be an employee for a business when disaster strikes. She worked at Kismet for eight years before the fire struck. Thompson said the fire was truly devastating, not only to the businesses but also to everyone that was affected by it.

“When I was out of a job”, Thompson said, “It was very inspiring to see how much the community cared for everyone affected by the fire.”

Thompson was so inspired by the sense of community, and for the loss of her job, that she decided to open her own business just like Kismet. Thompson says that the whole thing has been a learning experience. She has learned how much this community truly cares for one another, and also the steps she must take with her business to be prepared for a disaster.

Mary Cheadle, owner of Uptown Dogs T-Shirts, had owned her business for 27 years before the fire hit. When she first heard of the fire, she immediately thought of her employees and her daughter. She was greatly relieved to hear that everyone made it out safely. Cheadle didn’t actually lose her building to the fire. The firefighter did so well of a job that the blaze stopped just inches before her building. However, Cheadle lost almost all of her inventory and most of her records. After a fight with her insurance company, Cheadle had to move her business out of her current building.

Cheadle said, “Each of us went through a frame of mind where we asked ourselves, what do I do? Since it was a family business, I couldn’t just leave Uptown Dogs, so I had to start it over in a new location.”

After a successful start-over with Uptown Dogs, Cheadle wanted to help with the regrowth of Union Street. She also wanted to try to bring something new to the environment of Athens. Cheadle opened 10 West Clothing, a clothing business that plans to add some more variety to Union Street and aid in the regrowth process.

Finally, Patrick Daughtery spoke about how Bobcat Rentals was affected by fire. Since rental businesses aren’t focused on a specific location, Bobcat Rentals wasn’t as affected by the fire as the others. They were actually only open for 5 days in that location before the fire hit.  Due to this short amount of time, they were forced to move right back into their old location. Luckily, they were able to salvage some of the data and were able to start back up on the next business day.

“ When you are an entrepreneur, you’re going to be faced with challenges. It’s very important that you face these challenges head on”, said Daughtery.

He also wanted to focus on the fact that all lost something. This ranged from business owners to college students. Daughtery reminded the audience to be thankful for what we have. You don’t realize how good you have it until you lose it.

Rising from the Ashes was an event held by the Center for Entrepreneurship in honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week. Global Entrepreneurship Week is celebrated around the world by over 160 countries in honor of the individuals that create startups, drive economies, and bring change to the world. It is meant to inspire others to explore their potential, not only as an entrepreneur, but also as a leader.

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