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Small Business Heroes

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The School Box, Inc. Founder Dave Persson (seated) and Thomas Sherrer, operator of Mellow Mushroom in Kennesaw.
The School Box, Inc. Founder Dave Persson (seated) and Thomas Sherrer, operator of Mellow Mushroom in Kennesaw. Photo by LaRuche Creative

The Town Center CID recognizes local companies that have gone above and beyond in serving the community during an international crisis.

By Cory Sekine-Pettite and the Town Center CID

The Town Center Community Improvement District (CID) is a district of commercial property owners — mostly small businesses. The CID is dedicated to the betterment of the Town Center area through transportation infrastructure, safety improvements, beautification, and other projects that enhance property value by increasing interest and investment in the community. The Town Center CID (towncentercid.com) utilizes funds from voluntary commercial real estate taxes to implement its projects, such as the South Barrett Reliever and the Noonday Creek Trail.

Yes, this is an organization of business owners, but community is their key word; it’s their raison d’être. Like many of us, the businesses in this community were impacted (some severely) by COVID-19. But while the work of the CID has largely been able to move forward during this time, the usual work of many of its small-business members has not. Many businesses in and around the Town Center CID have had to reinvent, reinvest, deploy new tech, and develop other initiatives to keep their doors open. In fact, some of these companies began focusing on helping their community with new safety measures both internally (making PPE’s for example) and externally (consulting).

Thus, the CID’s board members and staff decided to call attention to these companies, these so-named Small Business Heroes. They wanted to highlight their members who are reaching out, fulfilling needs, and aiding their neighbors. These are just a few of their stories:

ATLANCO
1125 Hayes Industrial Drive, Marietta
atlanco.com

ATLANCO Warehouse

Founded in 1950, ATLANCO (under the brand names TRU-SPEC and 5IVE STAR GEAR) supplies personal equipment, material, and uniforms to the military, law enforcement, and public safety markets. According to Morgan, the company adapted quickly to the pandemic by having administrative employees work from home when possible, and it instituted social distancing policies and split-shift warehouse hours in order to keep personnel safe and employed.

When the need for additional equipment for frontline healthcare workers arose, ATLANCO answered the call by donating PPE masks to several local agencies, including the Marietta and Canton Police Departments, Cherokee and Bartow Sheriff’s Offices, and the Marietta Fire Department. The company also is designing several unique pieces of PPE gear to be made locally in Marietta and in their factory in Honduras. Additionally, ATLANCO is working with the Georgia non-profit All Hands On by providing clothing for their interpreters who work to keep the deaf community of Georgia informed during this difficult time.

ATLANCO continues to support the local community through donations and sponsorships. The company is a sponsor for the canceled Yaarab Shrine Circus held annually at the Jim R. Miller Park in Marietta. ATLANCO also donated to the Coles College Marketing and Professional Sales Department at Kennesaw State University to provide professional podcasting equipment for students studying digital marketing. Outside of the metro area, the company sponsors Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures to help support family experiences at Camp Serenity.

Ajay’s Upholstery
2641 Summers St., Kennesaw
facebook.com/ajaysupholsteryinc

ajays SBH

Ajay’s Upholstery is a family-owned shop in Kennesaw. For years, the store has been one of Cobb’s go-to shops for everything from car and boat re-upholstery, to refinishing your favorite living room couch and more. During these times of uncertainty, they came up with a way to put their skills to use — making reusable PPE (non-medical) masks. Thus far, they have donated more than 1,000 masks.

These efforts began when shop owner Bibi Husain wanted to send masks to the hospital in New York where her cousins work. Shortly after sending them, the CDC began to encourage homemade masks as an alternative to medical masks for the general public. At that point, Husain and the rest of her family got to work with the goal of making as many masks and they can.

Bungii
bungii.com

bunji SBH

Bungii is a delivery service focused on same-day and on-demand shipping of large items for individuals and companies. Bungii drivers will deliver items like mattresses, couches, dining sets, patio sets, grills, and even loads of mulch, pine straw, or rocks, as well as other large household items. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been able to be a part of aiding the supply chain needs for both business partners and consumers who use their service. As a shipping and delivery company, they fall under the “Essential Business” provision and have been called upon to help deliver PPE from medical supply distributors, essential products, and shelf-stable goods to local charities. Bungii says it even has seen an increase in outdoor supplies and DIY materials for home improvement projects.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the company has adapted to meet the needs of the communities that it serves, says owners Harrison Proffitt and Ben Jackson. As both its corporate and local business partnerships continue to evolve and expand, so do the needs for efficient and reliable alternatives to same day/next day delivery to Bungii customers. With the need for commercial delivery at an all-time high, they say, Bungii has been able to provide affordable solutions during an unprecedented supply chain crisis.

Recently, the company was able to utilize its delivery services to support the Center for Children and Young Adults (CCYA) in Marietta. Bungii purchased non-perishable goods, such as bottled water and toilet paper, and delivered them to the CCYA.

One of Bungii’s core values is “do the right thing,” which was exemplified in its decision to assist the CCYA. As the demand for delivery increases, the company hopes to continue to be a positive resource for our communities. Bungii has several partners in retailers located in the Town Center CID and beyond in Cobb County.

Carrabba’s Town Center
1160 Ernest W Barrett Pkwy NW, Kennesaw
carrabbas.com

Carrabba's Town Center staff

Carrabba’s at Town Center has gone above and beyond during an unusually slow time for restaurants. When COVID-19 tests for high-risk individuals were being at Jim R. Miller Park in Marietta, a delicious Carrabba’s lunch was provided to the professionals who were conducting these tests.

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said at the time, “A big thank you to our local hero, Carrabba’s at Town Center, for treating our public healthcare workers and public safety staff to lunch. We are grateful for our community supporters and appreciate their kindness and generosity.”

Carrabba’s at Town Center has created a culture of care in the restaurant and has prioritized giving back to his community. They also are participating in the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Operation Meal Plan program, which was begun to provide food to those in need, to help restaurants keep their workers employed, and to provide a vehicle for citizens to help. In addition, Carrabba’s at Town Center was recognized in the Marietta Daily Journal for donating meals to Cobb Senior Services.

The Town Center CID is grateful for Carrabba’s at Town Center’s commitment to the community now and beyond this season of uncertainty.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
625 Big Shanty Road NW, Kennesaw
choa.org

CHOA

The Children’s at Town Center campus serves more than 30,000 patients a year with sports medicine, physical therapy, urgent care, and more. They’ve also stepped up during this national health crisis.

“You won’t hear much about our unsung heroes, because they don’t look for accolades, they just do their jobs as the true givers they are,” says Pam Younker, Children’s Community Development Officer.

Children’s treats hundreds of kids every single day. Some of their complex illnesses require a lifetime of treatment, says Younker, so every dollar the community invests helps the healthcare system lay the groundwork for similar facilities that will change the lives of children with complex conditions, as well as the lives of their families.

Thank you to the hardworking medical professionals at Children’s who have and continue to go above and beyond to care for our children. Are you wondering how you can support the frontline workers and staff at Children’s? They’ve created a convenient list of ways that you can help on their website. It can be as easy as just staying home to protect others or sending a virtual smile to staff and patients!

Elder Law Firm
1300 Ridenour Boulevard, Suite 115, Kennesaw
shelleyelder.com

shelley elder and steve crane

The Elder Law firm is fully committed to the community. From supporting local theatre, to volunteering for veterans, to assisting with multiple fundraisers, Cobb County always has been able to count on the firm’s partners, Shelley Elder and Steve Crane.

Recently, the firm donated $2,500 to provide 20 computers for students who had no access while conducting their schoolwork at home. Elder serves as the current Kennesaw Business Association (KBA) president and the firm is a member of the Town Center Community Alliance. Elder and Crane stay heavily involved in the community and feel very passionately about giving back.

“We are so grateful for friends in our community like Elder Law Firm,” the Town Center CID shares. “As we receive more updates and gradually see more facilities re-open, please continue to support your local small businesses.”

“Although COVID-19 has brought many struggles and hardships, we are thankful our company had the opportunity to work alongside some amazing nonprofits such as the YMCA, CCYA, MUST Ministries, and Cobb Schools Foundation,” Elder said. “We have been able to come together and provide a sense of stability for families close to home that are in need.”

Little Red Bird Gifts
1300 Ernest W Barrett Pkwy NW, Kennesaw
littleredbirdgifts.com

little red bird store

Little Red Bird Gifts is a boutique shopping experience with a focus on Southern and responsibly made items. This shop recently closed to keep customers and staff safe, but they came up with very creative ways to keep their virtual doors open, including offering customers private, FaceTime or Google Hangout calls where they get a “walk-through” of the store to help them find the perfect gift for anyone — even themselves.

Voted Best in Cobb in two categories this year, owner Holly Hachman launched a new website for her shop and is committed to adding new products regularly. Check out her website and continue to support small businesses.

Mellow Mushroom Kennesaw
Operator, Mellow Mushroom Kennesaw
Owner, Poole’s Pharmacy in Marietta

Thomas Sherrer of Mellow Mushroom Kennesaw

Cobb businessman Thomas Sherrer is the operator of Mellow Mushroom in Kennesaw and owner of Poole’s Pharmacy in Marietta. When the pandemic began to take hold in Georgia, he donated and personally delivered pizzas to feed all of Wellstar Kennestone’s emergency room staff. To say that they were pleasantly surprised was an understatement.

“Through our (family) association with Poole’s Pharmacy, previously located in the Whitcher Street building adjacent to Wellstar Kennestone, we developed a great working relationship with many of the hospital staff,” Sherrer said. “When we asked one of our ER friends what she needed most after a long day in the trenches she replied, ‘Food!,’ and we realized that that was something we could do. We were excited to have the opportunity to donate and deliver lunch to our hometown heroes, the ER staff at Kennestone.”

Sherrer said that it is small gestures like these that can have the greatest impact. Considering what hospital staff have experienced, these folks were more than appreciative.

Mellow Mushroom Kennesaw also participated in the nationwide fundraiser, “A Pie for a Pie Day” and donates one small pizza to a local charity for every pizza it sold. “Thanks to the generosity and support of our awesome guests, we were able to donate 175 pizzas to The Extension and liveSAFE Resources in Marietta,” Sherrer said.

Mellow Mushroom Kennesaw currently offers socially distanced dine-in, curbside pick-up, and catering.

Sherrer added, “We want to extend a big thank you to our staff that has worked tirelessly during this season, and we greatly appreciate our general manager, Katie Martin Hewitt, who has kept us running during tough times.”

Otter’s Chicken
otterschicken.com

Otter's Chicken

Otter’s Chicken, a local sports-themed restaurant has taken a swing at new employee health practices, such as wearing face masks, and the restaurant has new order processes such as curbside delivery or delivery through a service. In addition to these initiatives, owner Will Peterson has kept his heart for the community in a number of ways.

So far, they have prepared 600 meals through Operation Meal Plan. “Our goal was to find a way to keep our restaurants afloat while providing a valuable resource to our non-profits who are serving people in need. Operation Meal Plan is a way to link these entities together,” said Sharon Mason, president and CEO of the Cobb Chamber in a news release.

Otter’s Chicken has delivered to Center for Children and Young Adults, Widow Strong, The Zone, YMCA, Mother’s Making Change, Tommy Nobis Center workers, Legacy Village, MUST Ministries, and Table on Deck. They also have continued to exercise their hospitality skills by hosting several spirit nights with local schools and sports teams by making them “Take-Out” spirit nights and donating a portion of the sales back to that group.

Also on their line-up is the Feed the Frontline Campaign from ezCater where they are helping to deliver meals to healthcare workers in Atlanta. In addition to that, Otter’s joined the “Caring for Kennestone” team by preparing and delivering 500 boxed lunches to Kennestone Hospital.

Peterson continued hosting “Spirit Nights” for local sports teams throughout the summer, where a portion of proceeds from Dine-in, Take-Out, and Curbside orders on their night are donated to their team. The restaurant also hosted a few “Welcome Back Luncheons” for teachers, by providing them individually wrapped boxes. Teachers also always receive free Regular-sized drinks at Otter’s when they show their Teacher ID.

PCT Clean
2655 Cobb Pkwy NW #108, Kennesaw
pctclean.com

pct clean rj patel

PCT Clean is a janitorial service located in the Town Center community. The company, which is a member of the Kennesaw Business Association, has seen an increase in requests for disinfecting services and therefore an increase in need for staffing. To help fill this need, PCT Clean worked with other local businesses to hire people laid off from hotels and tourist attractions. These partners were able to recognize the collaboration potential between these two segments and reached out to make various connections.

“With this unprecedented challenge in employment specifically in hospitality-related jobs, we are thankful for all the companies involved, including PCT Clean,” said the Town Center CID. The other companies involved in this noteworthy initiative are AA Top Home Care, All Pro Cleaning Systems, Diamond Glow Cleaning, Jan-Pro, The Service Fort, South Property Partners, and Stratus Building Solutions of Atlanta. “This type of creativity and support across companies and even industries is the type of teamwork that will continue to encourage our community and beyond towards success,” the Town Center CID continued.

REMAX PURE Realty and Motto Mortgage
93 Church Street, Marietta
remaxpure.business.site

REMAX PURE Realty

The residential real estate process is typically a very hands-on and in-person process, so when society was instructed to distance from others as much as possible, the Wendy Bunch Team at REMAX PURE Realty and Motto Mortgage were challenged to adjust their process. However, the team continues to help people find their perfect home, and they even conduct “drive-by” closings. This creative way to close on homes has allowed them to continue getting people in their new homes while maintaining appropriate social distancing.

While some of life feels “paused,” some things cannot stay stagnant; buying a home may be one of those events, which is why REMAX PURE and Motto Mortgage has been working so hard to keep their business flowing safely and efficiently. Wendy Bunch shares, “I am so thankful; when we opened 10 years ago, our mission was a paperless, mainstream system…[we] have been fully operating form home without any issues.”

Additionally, the company has taken this opportunity to give back to the community by supporting groups such as Wellstar, the Strand, LiveSafe Resources, The Zone, and more. “We are grateful for essential work and workers who are creatively making it happen,” the Town Center CID said. “Thank you to The Wendy Bunch Team of REMAX PURE and Motto Mortgage for all that you’re doing!”

The School Box, Inc.
1257-A Kennestone Circle, Marietta
schoolbox.com

the school box logo

The School Box, a local retailer for educational toys, games, and supplies, has operated as an essential business and a resource for this time of unexpected homeschooling, The School Box is working hard to provide their goods in a manner that is safe for their employees and customers.

They began by offering online and over-the-phone ordering with free curbside pick-up. They also have shared a number of online resources for first through sixth grades for free.

More recently, they were approached by numerous organizations, including Kennesaw State University and Georgia Tech to help them build unique supply kits to go with the programs they would be teaching their campers at home. This burst of new business left them thinking of other ways they could help some of these organization in the future — regardless of how they are teaching.

Founder and owner Dave Persson shares, “We have been building custom school supply kits for schools as a fundraising opportunity for the past four years. The sudden announcement that schools will start the year virtually has left a lot of schools scrambling for the best way to work with their families virtually. Several are working with us to create custom kits that differ from just school supplies so the students — mostly elementary age — will have hands-on items to support their learning at home.”

The School Box was stocked and ready for teachers to decorate their classrooms, but quickly has to pivot to help parents prepare for home learning. If you are in need of supplies or other learning tools for you or your children for the beginning of the new school year, The School Box is a great, local resource for all your needs.

Tom + Chee Kennesaw
1200 Ernest W Barrett Pkwy NW #208, Kennesaw
tomandchee.com

Tom+Chee Food Truck

Tom + Chee is a locally-owned Kennesaw franchise that specializes in creative grilled cheese sandwiches and other delicious fare. Since the pandemic began, owners Eric and Laura Hart have come up with some initiatives of their own and have helped facilitate a number of donations made possible by a generous community. Here is just some of the support that they have been able to provide:

  • Joining forces with Capozzi’s in East Cobb, owned by Adam Kessler, they participated in making lunches for kids in the community. Tom & Chee purchased supplies and then asked the community to donate. Through this, there were able to feed about 150 children.
  • Some generous customers purchased lunch to donate to police, fire, and ambulance personnel. To date, they have received $1,600 towards this effort. Locally-owned Uptown Cheapskate ran a fundraiser that matched up to $1,000 to go to Tom + Chee to continue these efforts.
  • Other customers have donated funds for Tom + Chee to prepare meals to specific groups, including nurses and doctors in the ICU at Cartersville Medical, staff at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Urgent Care Kennesaw facility, Children’s Calvary Home, and more.

Additionally, the Harts recently launched a food truck business (Gaston Street Eats) and have been bringing the truck to local neighborhoods to help lift morale and to keep Tom + Chee staff employed. “The community support for your small business has been incredible. We would not be here today if it wasn’t for the outpouring of love and support from our community, businesses and friends,” Laura says.

“This is our hometown and we are here to serve, take care of our community, and give our employees a safe place to learn and grow,” she continues. “…I can personally say it has given me hope to see how many friends and customers have stepped in to support us during these times.”

Tropical Smoothie Café
tropicalsmoothiecafe.com

Tropical Smoothie Cafe owner delivering food to hospital

Tropical Smoothie Café is a franchised restaurant with three locations in Cobb County, one of which is located in the CID. As a participant of the county’s Operation Meal Plan, they provided food to the first responders of the Behavioral Health Crisis Center in Marietta.

According to a press release from the Cobb County Community Services Board, district manager of Tropical Smoothie Café, Chris May, said: “We are happy to be a part of Operation Meal Plan, as well as partnering with Wellstar Kennestone and Northside Hospital. We want to make sure everyone feels appreciated — especially our first responders.”

The Town Center CID is grateful for stories like these to remind everyone of the positive impact of which our community is capable.

Viral Protective Services
viral-ps.com

VPS CCTC office

Viral Protective Services (VPS), is a new company brought to you by the principals behind Blue Sky Exhibits. Blue Sky Exhibits thrived on large gatherings and trade shows, which unfortunately came to a screeching halt earlier this year. The owners of Blue Sky Exhibits, Don Keller and Tim Kelley, had a contingency plan for something like this, but it did not include a new business. Keller and Kelley knew they wanted to contribute to the community in some way, as they always have, so they got creative on how that goal overlapped with their current capabilities.

As society has begun to slowly reopen, many organizations find themselves at a loss on how to effectively and safely reopen. Keller and Kelley felt that they could fill this gap by offering solutions for protective architecture, education, and training from Business Infection Prevention Partners (BIPP), detection devices such as thermal screening, and more. That is how VPS came about. The company takes an in-depth look at how its clients’ businesses function and can provide almost anything conceivable to smooth their re-opening strategy. Furthermore, all their items can be customized to their clients’ brand.

Cobb County Tax Commissioner Carla Jackson, says, “A few months ago, I’d never heard of social distancing or worried about virus mitigation. VPS has been a great business partner in helping us navigate how to serve our customers in a safe environment.”

Beyond offering some services online, VPS assisted the Cobb County tag office to be outfitted with the appropriate tools to keep staff and patrons safe — items such as partitions between counters and stations, and much more. By providing an in-depth consultation and safety assessment, VPS was able to supply a thorough report of actions for the department to take to mitigate the potential spread of infection. Also, VPS provided infection prevention training to all tag office staff.

In a time where there is significant uncertainty, Keller and Kelley stepped up by recognizing a growing need in the community. “They are making a significant impact on our community and beyond to slow the spread,” the Town Center CID shared.

Win-Tech
8520 Cobb Center Dr., Kennesaw
win-tech.net

Win-Tech employees

Win-Tech is a veteran-owned aerospace precision machine shop. Earlier this year, the company began making ventilator pieces for a client that was assembling full ventilator units. Win-Tech also remains vigilant in keeping their staff safe and healthy. In doing so, owner Dennis Winslow has implemented a plan that includes relaxing the paid time off policy, canceling business travel, encouraging sick employees to stay home, assigning several employees with sanitizing work areas and common spaces often, and several other reminders and policies.

Allison Giddens, Win-Tech’s director of operations, said: “The best analogy we have heard is that this is a marathon — the COVID-19 challenge isn’t one we’ll beat overnight! It is vital that we communicate regularly and clearly. There are many scenarios to plan for, and the supply chain has multiple facets that can affect Win-Tech. We are working hard to mitigate risks that would cause us not to meet promises to our customers.”

 

*Special thanks to Luci Morgan, Town Center CID’s communications and outreach manager, for assisting with this article.