Anna Meyer applied for nine grants to help small businesses like hers through the COVID-19 pandemic. She got no help.
“It’s been really daunting every time,” said Meyer, the owner of Range Free, a coffee shop and bakery at 110 Orr Street.
On her tenth attempt, she was able to give her business the boost it needed with a micro-loan from the city.
While the 5-year-old cafe wasn’t operating again before COVID-19, the loan allowed them to update the website and replace defective equipment.
Range Free is one of 35 local businesses receiving a micro-business loan from the Housing Programs Division in Colombia under the federal law on Coronavirus Aid, Aid and Economic Security passed by Congress in March.
The The micro business loan program required extensive application from businesses when applying for aid. Qualifying business owners had to document a negative impact from COVID-19 who had to use the additional funds to bolster their business against the economic consequences. The loan program ran in September and October, with the final 35 companies selected by the end of October.
Range Free is committed to not using five of the top eight allergens: wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, Meyer said. The other three main allergens, eggs, dairy and soy, can be removed in special orders, but are often also removed from the regular menu.
When COVID-19 came and the stay at home order went into effect, Meyer said the effects were very noticeable.
“We slowed down until we could no longer stay open,” said Meyer.
She said the bakery had been closed for seven weeks through the end of May and the community is keen to help her reopen.
“We reopened with a good crowd, a lot of excitement,” she said.
Meyer said sales fell 50% to 75% between late May and October. Now, she said, the number is probably less than 50%.
Meyer said she applied for the loan to improve Range Free’s online ordering and marketing skills by relaunching the company’s website and modifying space in the cafe to keep employees and customers safe. This involved adding foot pulls to the bathroom.
She said the website should be up and running by the end of December.
One way to adapt Range Free to home ordering was to focus again on frozen products that people could take home and cook for themselves. Because of this, the cafe’s freezer was an integral part of the business operations. It stored items like takeaway pizza, cookie dough, loaves of bread, soups, and cakes.
When the freezer stopped working, Meyer used part of the loan to buy a new one for the company. The new freezer has twice as much space, and Meyer said it was more tempting for customers to check it out.
“(This year) was our best Thanksgiving day ever, which was kind of a shock,” she said. “Part of that is because of what we did with the micro-business loan.”
The reopening of Range Free posed some new challenges. Meyer said she needs to find new ways to cut costs and keep Range Free going. These strategies included editing the menu to keep the most popular items and changing the hours of operation to be open during the busiest times of the day.
Due to social distancing measures and an attempt to keep things as safe and low-contact as possible, Range Free also had to forego a feature that its regular customers enjoy.
“We have an extensive collection of salt and pepper shakers. We are known for that kitschy ”, said Meyer. “This is how we mark our customers’ tables and find tables to order.”
Meyer said the shakers also bring some Range Free customers with nostalgic memories that they frequently comment on.
She said that because they are high contact items, the cafe had to take them out of use for the time being.
“It seems such a stupid little thing, but it really brightened up every day with the salt and pepper shakers.”
Range Free is located at 110 Orr St., Suite 101 and can be reached at 573-777-9980. The café and bakery offer a wide variety of desserts and also sell soups, salads and sandwiches after 11am
Range Free is currently open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Customers can visit the website at range-free.com.