Fledgling businesses make comeback after shutdown

Stubborn Brothers, R. Franklin Clothing bounce back after delayed openings

Patrons pack into the Stubborn Brothers Brewery, 220 S. Main St. in Shawano, in this June 20 photo to enjoy the music of Grety Wolf Run. The brewery’s opening was delayed for two months by the statewide COVID-19 shutdown.

ContributedRiley Courchaine, owner of R. Franklin Clothing in downtown Shawano, poses in his store at 109 S. Main St. The store was open for only a week before being shut down for two months by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tim Ryan | NEW Media
Tim Ryan

While all local businesses were impacted to some extent by the two-month COVID-19 shutdown in Wisconsin, two downtown Shawano businesses had their operations scuttled before ever getting off the ground.

“We were all planning to open,” said Aaron Gilling, co-owner with his brother, Eric, of Stubborn Brothers Brewery, 220 S. Main St.

“We were ready to rock and roll. We were excited. We had a great team all together,” he said. “Things unfortunately didn’t go as we wanted.”

The state’s Safer at Home order closing down non-essential businesses went into effect on March 24.

Gilling said he understands the need for the order in spite of the impact on Stubborn Brothers’ opening.

“We support public safety,” he said. “We definitely support keeping people safe.”

Gilling said the brewery used that time to get to work brewing the beer it would eventually offer the public.

“As an entrepreneur, you have to be a glass-half-full kind of person. You’ve got no choice,” he said.

“I took the chance with the shutdown just to work hard because beer is considered an essential business,” he said. “Everyone needs their beer. We learned that from Prohibition.”

The brewery did some curbside sales of the first four beers it planned to have on tap when they expected to open in March.

“We did not think it was going to be as big a success as it was,” Gilling said. “There were lines around the block and around another block. We feel very blessed that people like our beer.”

The brewery now has 17 types of beer all brewed on the premises.

“We have a a unique venue different than any brewery in Wisconsin,” Gilling said. “That’s very exciting for us.”

When the brewery finally did open on June 3, one of the customers waiting to get in had driven all the way from St. Paul, Minnesota.

“He drank our beer and drove back to St. Paul,” Gilling said.

Gilling and his brother were forced to lay off most of the nearly 30 people they had on staff when the closure started. Many of those employees have come back, but some were forced to find other jobs.

“We have nothing but kind feelings for all those people,” Gilling said. “During that pandemic, the shutdown time, everyone had to figure out how to survive and make sure they were bringing in some form of income.”

The brewery seems to be bouncing back from the two-month disruption.

“We’re only a month old but we’re doing very well,” Gilling said.

The crowds began showing up as soon as the brewery opened its door.

“It was pretty amazing how many people came,” Gilling said. “They were pouring into the street. It was great to have so many people come and support us.”

The hiatus set all businesses back financially, Gilling said, but the brewery was able to work with the city on the terms of its development agreement and with the banks, particularly CoVantage Credit Union, to keep things afloat during the down time.

“We are very blessed,” Gilling said. “We have great bankers willing to work with us, as well as the city, able to make it so we were able to survive and thrive through this time. We’re beyond grateful for what the city, CoVantage and several other banks have done.”

Another downtown Shawano business with great expectations aborted by the COVID shutdown was R. Franklin Clothing, 109 S. Main St., which was set to take over the tradition of the Gentlemen’s Quarter shop that previously occupied that space.

The store was able to get at least one week under its belt before the statewide shutdown.

“I opened on March 16 and was open for just one week before I had to close again for a couple months,” said owner Riley Courchaine.

Courchaine had spent a few months prior to that remodeling the shop in anticipation of opening.

When the shutdown came, he said, “I just closed. I didn’t have a choice.”

Courchaine continued drop-off and pickup of dry cleaning, but, “otherwise I didn’t have anything going on.”

With no employees, Courchaine did not qualify for any federal assistance but did get some help from the city’s assistance fund.

Business has picked up a little bit now since the shutdown has passed, but things are still a little slow, Courchaine said.

“Everybody’s still being a little cautious,” he said. “Nobody’s really out clothes shopping.”

Customers do come into the store wearing masks and there is social distancing going on.

“The store’s big enough that distancing is not an issue,” Courchaine said.

Courchaine worked for three years under Gentleman’s Quarter owner Jeff Kirchner and kept the store going after Kirchner was diagnosed with cancer last year.

“They’re big shoes to fill,” Courchaine said. “But all the customers have been very supportive. The regular customers from his store have been coming in. I feel like I have a lot of support from the community.”