For many Wisconsin business owners, the coronavirus pandemic represented a significant challenge to their livelihoods. Many businesses did not have the reserve funds to survive the lack of patronage brought on by the virus and those that did were significantly harmed by it to the point where closure seemed all but certain.

Some businesses also experienced damage during this summers’ protests.  To say 2020 was difficult for small business owners is an understatement.

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In an unprecedented year full of unique obstacles, one would be hard pressed to find a silver lining, but that’s exactly what Rob Bowhan, owner of State Street’s August, a name brand apparel shop, has done. In fact, Bowhan firmly believes that 2020 helped his business more than it harmed it. 

“I really look back on COVID as something — this might sound weird — but I actually look at it as a positive thing,” Bowhan said.

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While August was initially well off-due to their already existing online e-commerce presence through their website, things quickly took a turn for the worst after August was forced to close for the entire month of April along with other State Street shops in order to aid in mitigating the spread of the virus. 

As businesses began to claw their way back to regular operations once summer came, August took another blow when the store was damaged along with other shops on State Street during the Black Lives Matter protests.

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Many of August’s merchandise was stolen in the break-in, and one of Bowhan’s staff members was even assaulted during the incident, adding further injury to the already battered shop.

“I’d be lying if I told you I never doubted if August was going to survive. Of course that idea runs through your head, but you can’t succumb to that,” Bowhan said about his thought process during 2020’s constant turmoil. “You have to keep going and grinding and figuring it out.”

With many of these difficulties in the rearview and life slowly returning to normal with the distribution of vaccines, Bowhan cites 2020 as a key factor in helping his business reach new heights.

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“It forced us to have to have to get creative; it forced us to have to figure out how we’re going to survive,” Bowhan said. “When your back is against the wall and you’re painted into a corner, it’s resilience, you’re going to figure out how you’re going to live, how you’re going to make this work. What are you going to do, stop?”

In addition to becoming a smarter business and learning new ways to cut costs, Bowhan also explained that the staff at August grew closer throughout 2020 as they weathered the storm together.

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What seemed like an insurmountable obstacle in the moment now represents something more. As Bowhan explains, he has nothing but positive thoughts to offer when talking about the year.

“It was a really emotional year and I might have been singing a different tune then, but now I’m able to look back on it with hindsight and I have a different view of the pandemic and how I’m speaking about it now. I refuse to talk about it in a negative way,” Bowhan said.

With the worst of the behind him and his business, Bowhan believes that August is looking forward to a brighter future with the approach of summer 2021 having undergone these challenging but formative growing pains. 

“August is here to stay,” he said. “We’ll be back in that full capacity.”