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Under COVID, startup businesses come out of the gate adapting


Anyone who doubts that necessity is the mother of invention should check out SCC Fitness’s new approach to leg day at the gym.

For some of its group exercises, SCC Fitness is using its parking lot and terrace along West Court Street downtown to physically distance those who are working out in the COVID-19 era.

The goal: Use every square inch of the gym’s new location,including the concrete curb along the street, where instructors run members through a high-octane routine of reverse lunges and step-ups with kettlebell weights.

Anthony Wahl 

Jaclyn Krizka breaks out in a smile while squatting with a kettlebell during a strength-training class outside SCC Fitness in downtown Janesville on Wednesday.

This spring and summer, precious few new businesses have launched locally, and existing businesses have taken a cautious or even defensive approach to operating in the pandemic.

The few businesses that have opened—or like SCC Fitness, undergone a dramatic relaunch—during the pandemic say they’ve faced a slew of unprecedented changes and hurdles that would render obsolete any DIY business startup manual written before February 2020.

SCC Fitness has been open for three years, but the gym hit the reset button in June by moving from West Milwaukee Street to a new space on West Court Street, just a few blocks away.

If not for the pandemic, SCC Fitness might not have turned to the curbside as a venue to burn quadriceps and socially distance members. The COVID necessity has led to one perk.

“We get a lot of attention out in the parking lot,” co-owner Cody Helgeson said. “A lot of looks from people in traffic driving past. It’s lot of people honking if they see somebody they know, or if they know us. So it’s been kind of fun to be out there.”

In late June, Dave and Sharla Walker opened Sharla’s Coffee Stop, a new coffee shop in rehabbed space in the former Milton College’s Whitford Memorial Hall in Milton.

Sharla Walker, who has a background in marketing, real estate and mortgage banking, said she initially intended to launch a mobile coffee truck. The couple pivoted when they saw the tall ceilings, wood paneling, arched windows and intimate nooks at the circa-1909 Whitford Hall.

To them, the space screamed “coffee shop.”

In early February, when the Walkers committed to opening the shop, COVID-19 was still viewed by national public health officials as a problem affecting mostly China and parts of Europe.

By May, the U.S. was mired in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Walkers were knee deep in launching a coffee shop they’d wanted to start for years.

They found themselves delaying the grand opening partly because the pandemic had upended the construction and manufacturing industries. Local contractors were tied up with home improvement projects, and manufacturing shutdowns bottle-necked the supply chain for the coffee-making appliances the Walkers needed.

The bigger hurdle might have been the uncertainty. How would they manage a new coffee shop—a natural human gathering place—in a pandemic that has kept people mostly home?

Sharla said she can tell some customers are tempered by a general fear of the unknown, which is driven by the pandemic.

“I’m Midwestern, and this is Wisconsin. You always shake hands. You hug,” she said. “But you can’t do that right now. That’s one of the hardest, most awkward things on the human side of this pandemic.”

Dave, a former nursing home employee, said he’s following cleaning and sanitation standards similar to those used in the health care industry.

He believes the shop’s layout—it’s split into a few private rooms and nooks and an open loft—offers seating that’s adaptable to whatever social distancing limits COVID-19 might require.

The couple plan soon to open a walk-up service window, which they hope pays dividends this fall when Milton School District staffers return to schools.

So far, the topic of mask-wearing—given the state’s recent public masking mandate—has been the thorniest issue. The state mandate requires masks in public unless people are eating or drinking.

Inside a coffee shop, most people are drinking coffee—a difficult thing to do while wearing a mask.

Sharla said one customer was unhappy that some people, including Dave, at times were not wearing masks.

In a review last week on Google Maps, a Milton resident wrote that he and his apparently immuno-compromised fiancee “love the location and space” of Sharla’s Coffee Stop but complained that “unfortunately, the owner’s husband, Dave, doesn’t seem to be enforcing the statewide mask mandate after it went into effect (or before).”

“We’re disappointed and don’t feel safe being there, which is a shame. If they followed the health practices set in place by the state, it would actually be a really nice coffee shop,” the reviewer wrote.

The Walkers said they blanched at the Google review—one of few the new business has seen thus far, and it was far from positive. They said they took the review to heart and met it head-on.

Sharla said Dave, who serves customers java, smoothies and their signature nitrogen-infused cold brew, has a “medical condition” customers might not be aware of that she said exempts him from the mask mandate.

Dave now wears a plastic face shield at all times at the shop, the couple said.

“Under normal circumstances, you’d go into a new coffee shop business wanting to know, ‘What do people think of the coffee? Is it good? Did we mess it up? Do you not like our scones?’” Sharla said. “But along with that now is the big, new question you maybe didn’t have before this year. It’s ‘Do you feel safe?’ Of course we want people to feel safe.”

With a new, larger and more adaptable gym location, SCC Fitness had hoped to see an uptick in new members. That has not happened, co-owner Tracy Schuh said, although the gym has maintained stable membership through the pandemic.

Being in a new location is a bit like starting over, but SCC’s parking lot workouts and a virtual workout option have helped retain members who are leery of being in public or are physically uncomfortable working out in masks.

Anthony Wahl 

Terry Seversen stretches after a strength-training class outside SCC Fitness on Wednesday in downtown Janesville.

Schuh and Helgeson attribute the loyalty to a core group of members who consider the gym’s operators as family. They said that has helped bridge political and philosophical divides among members over the paramount concern of all businesses: how customers respond to ongoing social distancing, including mask-wearing.

“They understand that we care about them, and they understand that if we’d have to close due to a COVID outbreak, that will affect our families at home and their fitness family, too.”

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New UW regent wants to create ‘wide-open highways for nontraditional students’


Corey Saffold has not taken the traditional path to get where he’s at today.

The 41-year-old Milwaukee native is the director of safety and security for the Verona Area School District. He’s also a new member of the UW System Board of Regents.

But he hopes to wrap up his bachelor’s degree in criminology at UW-Whitewater by next spring. After that, he might pursue a law degree.

He’s doing that not necessarily because those degrees will get him where he wants to go—he said he’s already there.

“What’s interesting about what I’m doing right now is I’m already working in the position that I would be in if I had a degree,” he said during an interview last week. “And so I’ve taken a different path. I’ve worked my way up by using my life experience. …

“My purpose, really, for a law degree is just to gain more knowledge.”

Gov. Tony Evers on June 1 announced that Saffold, who has been taking classes online at UW-W while working full time, was one of his three appointments to the Board of Regents.

UW-W recently had another student representative on the board. James Langnes III, who graduated in 2017, served on the board as a student and now works for U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil.

Saffold said he represents everyone in the UW System, but he is officially the nontraditional student representative.

He wants to create more educational paths for nontraditional students, such as by expanding access to online schooling and strengthening recruiting in rural areas of the state.

“I want to make sure that there’s a wide-open highway for nontraditional students to return to higher education,” he said.

Here are more answers Saffold gave to questions about his life and the state of the UW System and the country.

UW-Whitewater/Craig Schreiner 

Corey Saffold, left, discusses equipment options for a utility vehicle at Verona High School, where he works as director of safety and security for the Verona School District.

Big issues facing UW System

When it comes to having some students return to campus this fall, Saffold said he wants to leave such decisions to experts who are studying and following the coronavirus pandemic. He said each campus is different.

Saffold was not on the board during the failed search for a new UW System president, so he said he could not comment on the search process. But he said he wants the next candidate to share the system’s values and take them to the next level to benefit all schools, students, staff and faculty.

He said as a new regent, he’s listening, asking questions and learning so he can better use his voice.

His background

Saffold said when he was about 17, a police detective chose to give him a second chance instead of punishing him. The detective, he said, acknowledged the bright future Saffold had in front of him.

Saffold went on to serve 10 years in the Madison Police Department, starting in 2009. In that job, he learned how to solve problems, think critically and treat people with dignity.

“I knew that the same way grace was extended to me, I had to extend grace to others,” he said.

UW-Whitewater/Craig Schreiner 

UW-Whitewater nontraditional student Corey Saffold works in his office at Verona High School on July 14. Saffold was appointed June 1 to a two-year term on the UW System Board of Regents.

Police in schools

A significant part of Saffold’s police work involved working in Madison schools.

The Gazette analyzed school and police data for a June 26 story that reported Black students at Janesville public schools were cited, arrested and referred to juvenile authorities at a rate more than seven times higher than the rates for other races.

One of Saffold’s first problems to look at in Verona was the number of police responses to the high school. After one year, the school dropped from 32 calls to just two, he said.

To close disparities, he said districts first have to acknowledge them and listen to concerns of students and the community. Then districts should put together systems of measurement to quantify the problem.

“And then you pull those measurements, and one by one, you problem-solve each of them,” he said. “You come up with a permanent solution that will address each of those areas that you just researched.”

Each year thereafter, districts should re-evaluate the systems they put in place, he said.

Even as a former officer, Saffold said he understands how Madison students don’t trust police, and he understands why the school board decided not to have officers in schools anymore.

With racism and policing gaining more national attention since the murder of George Floyd, Saffold used the words “traumatizing, sad (and) frustrating” to describe some of his feelings over the last few months.

“Racism continues to be this weapon that leads to the death of people who look like me,” he said. “It’s very, very tiring. It’s (a) heavy weight.”

Obituaries and death notices for Aug. 17, 2020

Timothy “Tim” Banwell

Donald William Bloedel

Keith A. “KB” Boyer

Betty J. Dampier

Donald “Duck” Drake

Louise Mills Fish

Joel Dee Fletcher

Kelly Thomas Hejhal

Dennis “Sonny” Pabst

Rosemary “Rosie” Pakes

Mary Ellen Reigle

Ruth L. Roloff

Nancy Louise Schulz

Clair L. Twerberg

Esther M. Wenzel