GREAT FALLS — The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27th, 2020. This over $2 trillion economic relief package is designed to help people recover from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. MTN News will be profiling people and businesses who are being helped by the program.
“Skater Crowd.” That’s what Janine Hieb calls the community that her and her staff have brought in and built since Hieb opened Wheels of Thunder in 2016.
When the roller skating rink first opened nearly four years ago, it wasn’t an overnight creation. The business was the product of 10 years of hard work, planning, modeling, remodeling, and marketing.
That’s one of the many reasons why Janine wasn’t going to let her business fall by the wayside in the wake of COVID-19’s path of destruction.
“At times I was concerned because the things that you could apply for took some time, but I did have some savings ready to go, but once you get rid of all of that, it’s questionable,” said Hieb. “Plus with the way that cases were going and they would say ‘well COVID is this or COVID is that or wear a mask, don’t wear a mask,’ all of those kinds of things, it was just very confusing.”
Wheels of Thunder tends to bring in their most business, and by association the most people, from March through June each year. Thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, they were closed this year from March 15 to June 4.
To try and alleviate some of the stress caused by that loss of revenue, Janine says she applied for just about every small business assistance program that popped up when the government began offering help to businesses impacted by Coronavirus.
She says that she was lucky to have savings to fall back on once their regular stream of revenue started to falter, but the money from the CARES Act Grant did help them keep the lights on while the Icebergs and Toe Jams were on hold (those are either roller skating tricks or Johnny Depp films that flopped at the box office.)
“I think it really helps you to at least get peace of mind that you at least have something to fall back on through these difficult times because you don’t know what kind of crowd is going to come in or not come in,” Janine said of the CARES Act Grant money. “People have to deal with their own stuff, right? So, if you’ve got that in your bank account and you’re able to pay the bills, it at least takes that pressure off of you.”
But what Wheels of Thunder really thrives on isn’t something that you can apply for through any government database or application. It’s community support.
Janine recalls the early years of planning her business, when it seemed to her like skating had died out. That’s why she has spent a considerable amount of time drumming up that lost interest, showing people how much fun it can be, and assembling her skater crowd.
“The community support has been amazing, as when I opened,” explained Janine. “They all wanted me to stay here, they love that I’m here, but they were worried more about how it’s affecting them. For the most part, when we opened back up we’ve had just wonderful support. I’m selling tons of skates, I’ve got lots of my regulars coming in, lots of new people coming in and skating, so we’re maintaining out six feet as much as we possibly can, and keeping it clean for everybody.”
Not only is Wheels of Thunder open for business once again, Hieb has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about her business’ future, and she says that you should be too.
More remodeling is on the way, as are new arcade games, events, and surprises. She says that you can keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates as those new amenities and attractions begin rolling out in the coming months.
She wants to let everyone know that Coronavirus is no match for Wheels of Thunder.
“We’re doing great, my staff has been wonderful,” Janine said with a smile. “We’re just taking care of what we have to when we come to work and enjoying our day and loving skating, so that’s about it, just keep coming back.”