Pandemic, hurdles force closure of FM business

The Flower Cottage, a 12-year staple in the Fort Madison business community has closed up shop in part due to staffing and in part due to lost revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. PCC Photo

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – She was thinking about closing anyway after more than 12 years running her own business, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the hurdles of securing any assistance didn’t help the situation.

Diane Spiekermeier, owner of The Flower Cottage located at 12th Street and Avenue E, said she will have to shutter The Flower Cottage business as a result of the pandemic.

Spiekermeier said some staffing issues had her thinking about closing the business anyway, but when the state put restrictions on things like prom, graduation, and Easter. When groups were restricted to less than 10, she lost revenue from funerals as well.

“I was thinking about closing the flower shop due to some staff issues. I’m not foolish enough to think I can do my own,” Spiekermeier said. “June 1 was target date to make a decision and now I’ve lost all those holidays and there’s no sympathy work because no one can go to the funeral homes”.

So the handwriting may have been on the wall, but Spiekermeier said trying to secure loans and grants from the state has been a nightmare.

With the staffing issues, Spiekermeier said she was extremely busy trying to keep everything going herself and then trying to navigate through websites of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Small Business Administration to try and find some assistance during the closures.

“I did get a grant for enough to pay my bills last month. I applied for so many other things and haven’t heard back, and believe it or not. I’m busy. I’m busy, busy, busy all the time,” she said. “You try to apply, and then get kicked off line, you go back to try fill in… and you just throw your hands up in despair. That whole thing has been very frustrating.”

Spiekermeier credited her accountant, Fred Hoenig of Fort Madison with getting her a small grant through the Small Business Grant Program administered by the IEDA.

She said if it wasn’t for Hoenig she wouldn’t have gotten that grant. We only had about three days left to apply and he fortunately had all the documents they needed and helped me get that.

The Small Business Grant program had just an eight day application window and the state has funneled more than $50 million into all the applications that came in during the window. The state began with $4 million in grants and then through the CARES Act put another $48 million into funding applications, but did not reopen the window to apply.

She also has not had success applying for unemployment. With everything being automated and state officials directing most applications to online portals, there is no realy person to person communication.

Spiekermeier said after several attempts she was able to get her application in, and then a few days later she recieved a letter indicating she didn’t qualify.

“There very next day I was sent a debit card. So I called the number on it to check on the balance, and it said I had a “$0 balance,” she said.

“I’ve been paying into unemployment for 12 years and now you can’t qualify. When I was applying something happened and it kicked me off. I walked away and came back to finish it. I’ve never had to apply before so I didn’t know the hoops I would have to jump through.”

She said calling the system complicated is “nice word for it”.

Spiekermeier didn’t try to obtain any money from the Paycheck Protection Program because she believes it will tie many businesses to the government and she thinks the government is intrusive enough as it is.

“I don’t like a lot of government involvement and this feels like your tied to it,” she said.

Spiekermeier said she is continuing to do some limited online sales for customers who can’t get out and about. Getting flowers is difficult now as most of her suppliers aren’t delivering, but are selling on site. People can visit the items still for sale at www.4arose.com.

In the end, Spiekermeier said she’s passed all the denial of shutting down part of her business and is that fixed stage of grief.

“I guess after all of it, now I’m kind of excited to maybe just work 50 hours a week instead of 80, if I can survive on it,” she said. “If not it’s on to Plan B, or C, or D, or X where I guess I get a job.”

She also thanked her staff, Sandy, Marlene, Ashley, Laurie and Stephanie for their help over the years.

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