Bounce Back

by Ellie Butterfield

Bounce Back

Local businesses shine their ingenuity as they continue their pandemic pivot

MARCH 2020 came in like a lion with COVID-19 closing local business doors and clearing calendars. Business is back with innovation that has made us privy to a community renaissance. Here are just a few:

A Forgotten Alley becomes a Dining Ally

Pre-COVID, Decatur’s restaurant scene was a hallmark of the community. Dave Blanchard’s Leon’s, Brickstore Pub and Kimball House were
among those enjoying success.

“We had a very healthy business, and then, that all went away,” Blanchard said. “We really had to work harder than we’ve ever worked for probably less money than we’ve made in years just to keep it going.”

Safety measures of required face coverings, capacity caps and increased take-out capability were key. But Blanchard found that what really made people feel safe was outdoor seating. Thus arose the outdoor, beer garden-esque seating in the alley by Brickstore that formerly served as a parking lot.

“It’s been there forever, but no one had any recollection of it,” Blanchard said. “We completely cleaned it up .… There’s flowers and tables and chairs. It sounds cool and smells nice. It’s gotten people excited about something new that’s good for the city.”

One of those endeavors was a temporary soup kitchen put on by Brickstore. Open to staff and “anybody who was hungry,” all the food leftover the first few weeks of the outbreak was put to use nourishing the community.

“We’ve had to get really creative with the possibilities of what you can do to continue to make your businesses relevant and thrive,” Blanchard said. “If you don’t do it, you may go out of business. So you do it, and you see this really cool thing that comes of it.”

More details can be found at brickstorepub.com.

Cafe-Alsace-02

Viva the spirit of reciprocity

For Cafe Alsace owner Benedicte Cooper, this reciprocity between businesses and the community has been a crucial component of a comeback. Since 1997 she’s been serving regional dishes from her native home, France’s Alsace region.

When she saw France experienced a shut down in March, Cooper recognized the power of foresight and decided to get ahead of the curve. “I figured it was going to happen,” she said. “[As France closed down], that Friday we started doing a lot of food to-go in bulk.”

Though her close attention and quick reaction were fundamental to the cafe’s success, Cooper recognizes the rehabilitative force of the Decatur community.

“It’s nice to see the huge support of the community, the customers of Cafe Alsace and the community of Decatur,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see that customers followed us all those months.”

Cooper paid forward this spirit of support, inspired by her customers’ loyalty and donations to the cafe, by donating meals to Grady Hospital and healthcare workers “so they had help as well at the beginning.”

See more at cafealsace.net.

Business Renaissance

Wallers Coffee Shop

Sip and sing

Jason Waller had just broken through his new business’s first year when the pandemic hit. The musician-turned-coffee-afficianado had visions of information, art and music sharing when he opened Waller’s Coffee Shop in Decatur. He went from live music every night to closing his doors.

He began by re-opening with tents, outside spaces and to-go service only. Gradually live music has made its way back.

“It’s been rough,” he said. “I try to make sure I do the next right thing for me, my family, my community, and then the business.”

Waller credits the support of the art, music and local community for sustaining his business. “It’s been incredible to keep this place open,” he said. “I started from nothing …. I keep trying to match [their] investment.”

He gives back by fund raising for Amplify My Community every other Thursday through live streaming live music.

For weekend live in-person music, the irony of pre-sale only shows isn’t lost on Waller. “My whole life has been about gathering as many people as possible,” he said. “Now I’m trying to gather in a more measured way.”

Find more at wallerscoffeeshop.com.

Linden Tree Photography - FORM_255

Wellness

At a time where caution for physical safety takes a toll on psychological stability, wellness has new meaning.

Opening doors to celebrating breath

For Mandy Roberts, yoga has long been a key to being well. She built a personal practice before becoming certified to teach, and then taking ownership of Decatur’s FORM{yoga} in 2012. Bustling with more than 30 classes per week coupled with workshops an retreats, FORM offers“a place to come and be seen and loved as you are.”

In March, Roberts began scaling down classes before closing her doors.

“I realized we had to do our part,” Roberts said. “But I was utterly terrified. This was the first time we had ever closed. We’ve always even offered one class on Christmas Day. There’s a part of you that fears when you close a door, you’re leaving something behind.”

Roberts was resilient. She quickly turned to online classes before finding space outdoors for live, distanced classes. In offering indoor classes again, FORM requires masks, hand washing and social distance, and has air filtration that constantly pulls in fresh outside air as well as hospital-grade HEPA filters to keep yogis safe.

As she navigates the changing terrain, Roberts reflects on what uncertain times have given back.

“This is the Achilles heel of business owners – what brought us to owning a business gets lost when we manage a staff and a business,” she said. “For me that was teaching yoga.”

For customers, the yoga practice brings a way to experience life, particularly appropriate in a pandemic.

“We are playful and authentic,” she said. “It’s not about perfecting a shape. Yoga is the exploration of and embodiment of being alive. [With COVID-19] a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to freely breathe. We get to do that and celebrate it.”

See class schedule at formyoga.com.

Healing from the ground up

Laura Greiner, founder of Seed to Star wellness collective, also found that despite hefty adjustments and a core fear of having to halt wellness offerings to the community, the unique conditions of COVID allowed for a return to what it means to be well at its core.

During quarantine, Greiner had to clear months of wellness events and retreats, while moving classes to virtual platforms. Losing the energy of the in-person classes, Greiner found herself needing to innovate with new ways to engage the community of Decatur moms she’s always held dear.

In this crucial moment of restructuring, Greiner has turned to earth medicine through stones and crystals. As she explored this wellness, she found that the community is ready to do the same.

“People have just been eating it up,” she said. “I’ve been buying stones directly from the people who dig them. People are craving this earth medicine.”

Grenier describes the wow factor in our modern society of buying something that literally came from and in some cases is still covered with earth.

More details at seedtostar.com.

Photo by Lauren Robbins Holder

Sustainable mask making

Beya Made was focused as a collection of expandable baby and toddler clothes designed to grow with the child, according to owner Laurel
Thompson. The line offered an alternative to fast fashion for kids.

When the world changed, so did their offerings. “Because sustainability is at the heart of this business, I decided to use my giant stash of fabric scraps to make masks,” said Thompson.

Using a one-for-one model, Thompson was able to get around 600 masks to Georgia hospitals in a time of extreme need for PPE in the healthcare community. Once that need was alleviated, the masks continued to evolve for customers. Beya Made’s collection includes masks in all sizes designed from 3 years old to adults. One style includes an innovative adjustable ear loop that feeds into a neck strap to prevent losing the mask.

“This unexpected pivot has absolutely saved my business,” she said. “But more than that, I’ve just been so grateful that I can serve my community with something they truly need to protect themselves and their families!”

Find masks at beyamade.com.

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