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Macomb businesses praise community support during pandemic

Rich Egger/TSPR file photo
Craig and Julia Burns in spring of last year, just a few months after they purchased The Wine Sellers

When Illinois banned indoor gatherings in mid-March of last year, it was just a few months after Craig and Julia Burns had taken ownership of The Wine Sellers in downtown Macomb. 

Some people called it bad luck for the couple. The couple could no longer bring in crowds with sip n’ paint evenings, trivia nights or live music. Instead, The Wine Sellers relied only on retail. Curbside delivery became a primary source for business.

The Burns say that is what kept them going because the community had their back.

“We wouldn’t still be here without the support of the community. They really rallied behind us and many of the small businesses and we’re just so grateful,” said Julia Burns.

Not many saw a bright side to the pandemic, however, the community's outpour of support proved to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

“If there are silver linings to this, that is one of them. It really forced some of these small communities to focus on their local businesses,” said Craig Burns.

This year, even as the state eased some COVID-19 restrictions, the Burns came up with new ways to attract crowds while keeping them safe. The addition of the backdoor beer garden allowed the couple to host live music outside.

Julia Burns said the business continued to draw crowds well into fall.

“We’re doing things that we would never have thought to do before. I think the outdoor atmosphere has been the biggest thing. Our people have really decided that they like to be outside,” she said. 

Recently, The Wine Sellers hosted “Play it Forward,” a full day of live music that raised money for the McDonough County Humane Society. All musicians played for free as the event brought in more than $2,000. 

Credit Dylan Smith
Brandon Thompson in the remodeled Sullivan Taylor Coffee House

Right next door, Sullivan Taylor Coffee House also experienced a change in ownership, but it occurred when the pandemic was already well underway. 

Brandon Thompson, who worked under former owner Dan Lewis, took over the business in July, 2020. It was the same month the coffee shop celebrated its 25th anniversary. 

Thompson used the down time to renovate the shop. Fresh coats of paint, large amounts of cleaning, and redoing the floor were just a few improvements that were made. 

The renovation is one of many ways that Thompson made the most of a bad situation. He said he has his employees to thank the most for getting the doors back open. 

“I don’t think I slept for 40 hours the day before we opened, and one of my employees literally said, ‘Go home and take a nap,’” Thompson said. “I was like ‘I have gotta finish this,’ and they were like, ‘No, no, no, we got it.’ The employees really stepped up and helped me realize that this pandemic is not all that bad.”

More than one year later, and with a revamped look, Sullivan Taylor is back to the everyday business grind. While all seems well, Thompson said the biggest struggle is enforcing COVID-19 guidelines. He said the coffee shop follows health department guidelines, which has cost him some business.

“I made a decision that we are going to strictly follow it and I’ve had so many customers leave because of it,” said Thompson. 

Thompson continues to make steady improvements to the coffee shop with regular maintenance and concocting new menu ideas. He said the whole experience has made the business stronger.

“I believe that we gained a new plan on how to carve out our stake in this community,” said Thompson. “We really try very hard to take care of our customers. I put a huge emphasis on taking care of my employees, to get higher quality employees and put them through training to understand the full works of coffee.” 

The Wine Sellers and Sullivan Taylor Coffee House praise the community for being the backbone of their livelihood and for stepping up when times were tough. 

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.