Molly Lowenberg returned to the area after 20 years and established a development company, purchased a corner building on Pacific Way, and opened Gearhart Grocery. After running the business for six years with low profits, and unable to find a buyer for the business, she and her husband, Terry, decided to rethink their approach. In March 2017, they reopened the business as a pub, deli and grocery store.
Throughout this process, Molly turned to the SBDC for support and guidance. Through the Small Business Management Program and her SBDC Adviser, David Reid, she learned how to better track and manage her finances, how to create and establish the new brand, and how to be a better manager. All of this has had a notable impact on her employees, customers and the business.
"We were in a unique situation, opening a new business in place of something that the community knew," said Molly. "David, is always there to answer any questions. This helped immensely."
The business is now thriving heading into summer.
"Without David and SBDC this transition and journey would have been almost impossible."
Sara Maya and her husband took ownership of their restaurant, Monte Alban, in May 2012. It is an authentic Oaxacan-style restaurant featuring ingredients and recipes the couple grew up with.
“I like to cook because I know what I’m eating,” Sara said, noting that everything at the restaurant is homemade, including the tortillas.
Sara met her CEDR counselor, Jorge Gutierrez, through her involvement with the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council. Jorge helped Sara obtain the alcohol license she needed for the restaurant, and introduced her to business development services available through CEDR. Sara enrolled in several classes offered by CEDR and by Clatsop Community College. With three years of business ownership under her belt, she is already considering options for expansion.
“I’d like to add a store inside the restaurant for meat, produce, and Mexican ingredients,” she said. “I’ll need a business plan and financing to do it,” she said. She also has plans to sell her organic salsas through local retailers and farmers’ markets, with a portion of proceeds supporting education in Oaxaca and Astoria.
Sara participated in two additional programs to help her business: “Pasos Al Exito” (Steps to Success), which is a 12-week class presented by the Small Business Development Center, Rural Development Initiatives, and the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council; and an individual development account program for starting or expanding a business.
“Pasos Al Exito is only offered every few years, and our program has the most graduates of any in the state,” Gutierrez said.
“If I don’t build my business now,” Sara said, “I know in the future I’ll regret it. Customers like what we’re doing. They say it’s different—and it’s good.”
Pictured: Sara Maya
TJ and Emily Hecox took ownership of the Elderberry Inn in January 2015.
“It wouldn’t have happened without CEDR and the Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center (SBDC),” TJ said. “Once the real estate and financing processes got underway, it was a fulltime job just to provide the necessary documentation and keep everything moving,” he explained. “I work fulltime outside of the restaurant and inn, and without CEDR and the SBDC facilitating the purchasing process, I probably would have just become frustrated and given up,” he said.
“Our business counselor met with us two to three times a week initially,” TJ said. “He helped us put our business plan together, including two-year projections that required some research to develop. He believed in the vision we have for this place, and did lots of work to bring all of the pieces together.”
The property includes a restaurant, seven-room motel, and five RV spaces with hookups. The restaurant is a local institution, established in 1939. The motel was added in the 1960s. TJ’s mother-in-law and his wife, Emily, are also part of the business. TJ and Emily have plans to improve the property with renovations and updates, but want to go slowly.
If TJ and Emily’s offer to purchase the property didn’t go through, the restaurant and inn would likely have closed at the end of 2014. “We had our business counselor, our realtor, and even local politicians pulling for us,” TJ said. “This place was on the market for a long time and the payroll puts a lot of money into the community. We couldn’t let it close,” he said.
“I’d definitely work with CEDR and the SBDC again,” TJ said, “especially if we need to secure financing.”
Pictured: TJ and Emily Hecox with their two children
“I was an entrepreneur, not a business person,” said Becky Johnson, co-owner of Vintage Hardware in Astoria. “And when our business started to grow with no systems in place, I was afraid the volume would overwhelm us,” she explained. “I was flying by the seat of my pants.”
Becky enrolled in the Clatsop Community College (CCC) Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC's) Small Business Management Program, and gained so much knowledge that she took the course a second time, with a slightly different focus. “Every day, I see a difference in my business because of the program,” she said. “We thought we had a sustainable business, but without any reporting systems in place, we really didn’t know. Now, I can talk about my business on a completely different level.”
Johnson has her eye on future growth and expansion, which she’ll face with the support of CCC SBDC counselors and her financial advisor. “With our new reporting systems, we can see where our business is doing well, and where it could be improved,” she said. These systems helped Becky and her business partner understand the ramifications of moving to a new retail space that is three times the size of the previous location, and also underscored the seasonality of retail on Oregon’s north coast. “Our next step is to look at selling online as a means to generate more consistent activity year ‘round,” Becky said.
“I would implore any small business person to enroll in the CCC SBDC’s Small Business Management Program,” Becky added. “It’s a nurturing, non-judgmental environment where it’s OK to talk about making money. It’s an unbelievable resource for Clatsop County.”
“The CCC SBDC counselors want us to succeed,” Becky said. “And I am really excited for our future.”
Pictured: Becky Johnson
Former assistant librarian Lisa Reid loves books, but hadn’t necessarily planned to buy a bookstore and launch a second career as a small business owner. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
“I attended an event where Clatsop Community College (CCC) Small Business Development Center (SBDC) counselor Dick Powell was introduced. He explained what CEDR does, and encouraged business owners who needed help to come talk to him. A week later, a local independent bookstore went up for sale,” Lisa explained. Suddenly, she found herself a prospect for CCC SBDC services.
“My first questions were whether or not I could financially own and operate a bookstore; how I would do it; and where I would start,” Lisa said. “Dick researched information on independent booksellers, local buying trends, and small versus big box data. We needed to understand the feasibility of doing this—I didn’t want to bankrupt us,” Lisa said. “Dick knew exactly what we needed, and we worked together to develop a business plan.”
In addition to one-on-one counseling, Lisa took advantage of workshops on customer service and social media offered by the CCC SBDC. “Then I heard good things about the Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center’s Small Business Management Program from a former student,” she said.
“I was interested in strengthening my business management skills, so I enrolled in the program. I needed to learn our system and all of its capabilities, and how to hire employees, as well as things I’d not even thought of yet,” she added. “All of the students came together to share what was working for them and what wasn’t. It was an extended support network,” she explained.
When Lisa reflected on her journey as a new small business owner, she notes that CEDR and the CCC SBDC have been with her every step of the way. “Things just lined up, and at every stage, CEDR and the CCC SBDC have opened the next door,” she said.
Pictured: Lisa Reid