GREAT FALLS — Wheels Of Thunder owner Janine Hieb says business was booming before they shut down operations more than a month ago due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“When this hit, I was getting over 1,000 people in a weekend and then there’s nothing,” she said. “And that is so hard to come back from.”
Hieb says from November through February, her venue booked everything from birthdays to Nerf and glow parties. “We were in turbo mode going into March,” she said.
The closure meant no cash flow and for that time, no colleagues. “I have 14 employees, it affected (all) 14.” she said.
Hieb says another strain from the closure is the uncertainty of when cases would go down and restrictions would end. “When you have no one coming in, but you’re still paying monthly bills you’re still trying to think about how am I gonna future plan,” she said. “What can I do that would be good and there’s no money coming in.”
Now with a reopening date on the horizon, Hieb is looking forward to seeing her employees back and hopes the community will start supporting the rink once again: “We get to start soon and people’s attitudes and morale are gonna start back up again so super excited about that."
She’s preparing to open during the third phase of Governor Steve Bullock's plan announced earlier this week - but there's still no indication of when Montana will enter the third phrase of re-opening. “We’re updated on everything we need to do as far as keeping things clean,” she said. “We were really good about keeping things clean anyways but now we’re even gonna do more.”
During their closure, Hieb says she’s updated some things inside including adding more room to the concessions area, interior paint, several new arcade games that are set to arrive by summer, a ticket booth and prizes. “We’re also bringing in little ramps for everyone to practice on,” she said.
But even with the wheels of business in motion, Hieb worries more financial uncertainty will follow with the summer months approaching. "You have fall sports as well,” she said. “You can’t compete with Montana weather for sure.”
For now, Hieb’s focus is on what she can control-making sure she’s there for the patrons and kids she’s used to seeing on skates. “They really develop a bond in the rink when they’re here, we're their friends, we’re family,” she said. “So that makes it really hard we’re all missing each other.”
Hieb says they're looking for more guidance from the governor as far as a specific opening date. But skaters don't have to wait to get ready now; there are outdoor skates for sale at Wheels Of Thunder. The rink is also giving away free passes through a number of ways like sidewalk chalk art with drawings coming in from skaters who miss the rink. “The drawings that they’re doing are just so precious and beautiful so I love that,” she said.
Hieb says as she’s getting ready to open her doors, she says those that want to help now can purchase value cards, which come with a number of benefits. Details available by calling Wheels Of Thunder 866-0850, or clicking here to visit the Facebook page.