Entrepreneurs Look Toward Future After COVID-19 Challenges

Jack Money The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jack Money shares the stories of several Oklahoma City entrepreneurs who chose to pursue their business dreams head-on despite the challenges of the global pandemic.

Oklahoma City

Sometimes, things just seem to come together, even if it's later than expected.

Lisa McPherson, her husband Mark McPherson and their family thought things were all coming together in 2018 when they decided Lisa should follow her lifelong dream to open a retail store of her own.

They found a building within Chickasha's central business district that once had been a furniture store as a good spot to locate her gifts and home goods business, Perrefitte.

It took some time for them to acquire the 8,000 square-foot property located on the east side of South 4th Street, the town's main north-south route. And it took some more time to meet renovation standards required by their use of historic tax credits along with other sources of financing (including city grant funds) to restore the building to usability.

As for COVID-19? She hadn't given that much thought, believing that it wouldn't create much of an issue in Oklahoma.

The pandemic, however, did cause the family to put its buildout of Perrefitte's space on hold for nearly two months, delaying its opening until September.

"I would hear about pandemics as part of my in-service training as a teacher, but I just didn't believe it would actually happen and that this world literally shut down," she said.

Ultimately, the family forged ahead. "We stepped out on faith, hoping this wouldn't last forever." She wasn't alone.

Other entrepreneurs around the world with dreams of their own did the same, choosing to pursue business dreams in spite of the global pandemic.

Some of those entrepreneurs, including Lisa McPherson, fought through the difficult circumstances here in Oklahoma.

Elijah Vick, who opened Brew Brother in Oklahoma City in October, found himself needing to adapt to a new reality presented by the virus as it swept through the state.

And the illness-caused shutdown only strengthened Paige Mitchell's dream to open a co-working space in downtown Oklahoma City, where both busy working parents and their kids could be cared for.

McPherson said the name of her shop in Chickasha, Perrefitte (pronounced "pair of feet") is taken from the name of a village in Switzerland that was home to her family's ancestors before they emigrated to the United States.

The shop's name seemed fitting, she said, because "that is how we got to this little town in Oklahoma — our ancestors chose it."

McPherson said she had wanted to open her own home and gifts store throughout her adult life as she raised her daughters, Faith and Ivy.

As her children grew, she taught an adjunct literature course at The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, then later taught adult education courses to area women who were receiving public assistance.

Once her daughters were grown and going out on their own, McPherson said she constantly began thinking about pursuing her dream to have a store of her own.

"It just seemed like the right time for me to step out on my own. When I talked to Mark about it, he agreed, observing that 'You have waited a long time."

While the building they chose was considered by some to be an eyesore in need a considerable amount of work, it had potential.

A historic structure designation from the city made it possible for the McPhersons to tap local and state/federal assistance using historic tax credits for help.

They closed their deal to buy the building in June 2019, with renovations beginning a few months later.

In March 2020, CMS Willowbrook was building out Perrefitte's 1,700 square-foot space inside the larger building as the McPhersons worked to lease out the remainder to other tenants.

Normal, trying-something-new nerves were affecting Lisa McPherson, she admits today.

"When it was really time to open it, I got pretty skittish."

Then, once COVID-19 surfaced in Oklahoma, those plans were temporarily shelved.

"I had already been to market to order what I was needing to open Perrefitte," she said. "But when everything was going crazy, I asked those vendors to delay those shipments while we put the construction on hold. Later, I had difficulties in finding what I wanted because of supply chain disruptions."

Perrefitte carries various types of gifts involving birthdays, weddings and babies. It also carries clothing, perfumes, colognes and various types of other gifts appropriate for home settings.

Her daughters provide lots of input on what Perrefitte sells, McPherson remarked.

"They definitely were instrumental in moving me along in the process," she said.

McPherson said she and Mark are moving forward once again with plans to fill the building's remaining space with other tenants.

A coffee shop will open in one part of the building, and McPherson hopes they can land a restaurant that would move into the remainder.

Stillwater native Elijah Vick kept himself busy during the years leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The union audio and lighting engineer, who had been living in North Carolina, relocated from to the Seattle-Tacoma area of Washington to take a job in 2018.

While there, he spent a lot of time in a coffee shop during down periods as he looked for work opportunities between jobs and noticed the shop was getting lots of requests for deliveries — something it didn't provide.

He realized he had an opportunity to fill a niche. After discussing it with the shop's owner, he created a delivery service for the business.

Later, he returned to Oklahoma, intending to use his native state as a home-base for taking construction- or event-related jobs involving entertainment venues across the country.

But Brew Brother remained on his mind.

Vick said the delivery business' early success got him to thinking about opening a shop of his own, and the place he spotted — a piece of Oklahoma City's oldest surviving 1930s era Route 66 motel — looked to be a location that could work.

Owl Court, at 742 W Britton, had been built between 1928 and 1931, shortly after the corner of Classen and Britton was named a Route 66 bypass around Oklahoma City. Eventually, a cafe and gas station were added as part of the operation.

In recent years, the ownership group in charge of the property remodeled the property to provide some office space or retail, but felt Owl Court could also be a great coffee shop location.

And that's what Vick brought to the space with Brew Brother Coffee. Vick describes that building his shop is in as being the size of a "nook of a nook" (about 225 square feet).

Still, the A-frame shaped structure provides him with enough space for his sinks, a utility closet, a refrigerator, his stock of coffee, spices, teas and snacks and his all-important espresso machine.

Vick takes orders through a window on the building's front, with walk-up patrons enjoying their drinks using seating that is supplied in the development's outdoor plaza.

Vick said he entered into a deal with the ownership team to put Brew Brother Coffee into the space long before COVID-19 was a concern, and was deep into working on renovating the space when COVID forced the local economy to a near standstill.

While the crisis prompted Vick to bring in additional partners into his business before opening the business in October, it created new opportunities to solidly establish a future customer base for Brew Brother Coffee after things returned to normal, Vick said.

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