How did the last recession impact your life? The downturn officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 but the economy started struggling before that and took many more years to recover. While jobs were lost and businesses vanished, the recession also played a role in the rise of entrepreneurs who are helping to shape Martin City’s revitalization.
Many of us have taken on new challenges since the New Year began, so here are a few perspectives offering encouragement to hang in there even when the going gets tough.
When Dr. Libby Robertson bought Martin City Animal Hospital in 2008, it gave her the freedom to run a veterinary practice the right way without compromise. She loves providing care at a really high-level and was excited to get started. But the responsibility of becoming an entrepreneur was huge and the recession cast a shadow over an already difficult situation.
“I was doing it all myself and had two kids at home also,” says Robertson. “A sewer project on Cherry Street put a mound of dirt in front of my building so big that you couldn’t even see my building. And the economy was crashing. I was scared and thinking, why did I do this?”
But even all of that wasn’t enough to hold Dr. Libby back. She dug in, persisted and got stronger. She focused on doing her best for every pet in her care and word of her devotion spread quickly. She also drew on her background in marketing and advertising to come up with creative ways to attract even more business. Today, Martin City Animal Hospital is thriving and people come from as far away as Blue Springs for Dr. Libby’s expertise.
Looking back now, it seems the recession put KC Running Company at the starting line. Troy Fitzgerald and Brad Ziegler had both spent years in the nonprofit arena, one of the recession’s prime targets. It was an unstable and uncertain time across the country for charitable organizations, so Fitzgerald decided to go his own way with a new idea for supporting them. Ziegler soon followed.
“Troy always thought there was a niche for a business to help nonprofits sustain and grow their fundraising events,” explains Ziegler. “Running events were becoming more popular at the time, but they were just one of many events throughout the year that nonprofit employees had to organize. Fundraisers were often overwhelmed with the volume of events on their plate, so there was an opportunity there to take on some of the responsibility and help them.”
KC Running Company is now the go-to business for fun events that are professionally run, including the annual Martin City Whiskey Run 5K and scores of other high-profile races across Greater Kansas City. The business continues to grow and includes a retail store in Martin City that specializes in supporting runners at all levels with everything from shoes to sports medicine equipment.
Dave Quirarte turned a burrito recipe shared informally with co-workers into a local Mexican food empire. Margarita’s now has five locations across Greater Kansas City including a top performer in Martin City we all know as Margarita’s South. The restaurant is an undeniable hot spot in the heart of our community, but it wasn’t always that way.
When the clouds of recession started to gather, Quirarte was already in trouble. He was spread too thin across Margarita’s locations and facing a serious health problem at the same time. Quirarte wasn’t in a position to save Margarita’s South himself and couldn’t find good managers to help, so he shut it down.
“We closed for six years. We even tried to sell the building but the economy was bad and no one wanted to buy it. We were still paying utilities too.”
Quirarte’s health improved and he found himself in the strange position of having to reopen Margarita’s South and try again to make a go of it or risk losing more and more money waiting for a way out.
“I finally found good managers. No, they’re great managers. And the timing of our reopening in 2014 turned out to be perfect. The community really welcomed us back. It was amazing and it hasn’t let up since. I guess Margarita’s South was meant to be.”
Volleyball Beach had been around for a long time before Howard Barewin took over in 2010 while the economy was still in shock. He was a lawyer at the time specializing in real estate, an area of the economy hit particularly hard by the recession. Pressure on the real estate market wasn’t the only reason Barewin decided to act on his entrepreneurial instincts, but it certainly made a new direction more appealing.
“I did both for quite a while and it was just too much,” Barewin remembers. “I kept practicing law and running Volleyball Beach until about five years ago when I made it a year-round business with the introduction of the dome. Something had to give and I decided to do the beach full time.”
Barewin’s commitment paid off. His company’s success is growing. Players regularly visit our community these days, making Volleyball Beach a main attraction.
Joe Runyan actually went into the recession fairly well prepared. That’s not to say Hangers Cleaners hasn’t struggled. Runyan came within one payroll check of closing his doors before the recession even hit. A cash flow problem plagued the business for the first couple of years and Hangers almost didn’t make it. But Joe Runyan is nothing if not resourceful. He made ends meet and brought in a partner who helped put the business in the black by 2007 and strengthened it just in time to face the headwinds of the recession.
“Brian really started digging into how we could do some things smarter and more efficiently. He helped us focus our service area and that alone changed the game for us.”
Hangers Cleaners made it through the recession and now rides the momentum of 16 years in business in Martin City. A buttoned-up combination of high-quality cleaning and stellar delivery service successfully competes in a very difficult industry.
These Martin City entrepreneurs are certainly not the only ones who weathered the last recession. Others also survived it, discovered opportunities revealed by it or shifted their thinking in a smarter direction as a result of it. And landmark businesses like Jess & Jim’s Steakhouse and RC’s Restaurant powered right through it all as they have over and over again.
The Martin City Community Improvement District (MCCID) deserves some credit too. The organization of local property owners came together in the darkest days of the recession in 2008 to map a brighter future for our community. Since then, many local business leaders have passed through the MCCID, sharing perspectives and ideas to boost our neighborhood’s potential.
As the second month of 2020 dawns in Martin City, our entrepreneurs continue to remain rich in the determination that defines them. It’s a badge of honor in our community dating back to the 1800s, and a reason for all of us to enter a new decade with confidence, knowing, whatever happens, our collective spirit will carry us through.