Editor’s Note: This feature originated from a Chelsea Krost Q&A sponsored by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Krost chatted with Andrea Gorsh of Kae Apothecary to learn how small business owners and entrepreneurs are handling COVID-19.
Andrea Gorsh, the founder and owner of Kae Apothecary has created a tight-knit and diverse community in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. “I truly believe my mission in life is to bring people together. I wanted to create a place that feels safer than others; an environment for all walks of life,” she said.
But Gorsh, like many other small business owners across the country, is dealing with the ever-evolving rules of COVID-19 and the way it impacts each community. Yet, she hasn’t let that stop her workaholic tendencies and is getting creative in servicing her customers and even helping other small businesses in Mt. Vernon.
The Apothecary Community
Kae Apothecary has grown considerably since opening more than five years ago. Gorsh, the daughter of two small business owners, began with “mad scientist” work at her kitchen table and started getting into essential oils and all-natural products. Though she started with a small line of about 10 products in the back alley/basement of her friend’s pet shop, Kae Apothecary now resides in a 1,400-square-foot space, with a back area that serves as a book shop as well as a second floor that features a community meditation space and yoga studio. “Today, Kae Apothecary’s retail shop is a blend of all-natural self-care and community-based soul-care. What was once just a retail store is now ‘The Apothecary Community,’” Gorsh said.
The community built by the apothecary can also be personified in the help Gorsh received when moving into her new space in downtown Mt. Vernon. She put out a call on social media to help move products into the store. She was not disappointed, as nearly 75 people came to help, displaying how Kae Apothecary has been bringing Mt. Vernon residents together since the beginning.
“The Wild West”
Gorsh is the first to admit that the past few months have been challenging. The Apothecary temporarily closed in mid-March. She also made the difficult decision to cancel in-person workshops for the rest of 2020 and move them online. However, that decision has come with a silver lining: in-person workshops were largely limited to Mt. Vernon residents. Now, people from across the country are also able to participate.
Kae Apothecary has recently reopened for appointment-only shopping after utilizing COVID-19 relief for small businesses grants and loans from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Gorsh said the modified arrangement is going extremely well. She believes being able to adjust on the fly is one of the key attributes that small business owners are going to need to be successful for as long as COVID-19 is around. “We’re sort of living in the wild west right now — you need to be able to change and adapt quickly in order to survive.”
A Beautiful Relationship
During these trying times, community means everything, especially in small towns across America. Banding together is essential and Gorsh is backing up other businesses in town.
She also created a Facebook group for small business owners in Mt. Vernon, giving people one outlet where they can find out what’s happening with their peers in town. “I’ve always been a workaholic; now I feel as though my work is the community, and it’s a beautiful, symbiotic relationship,” said Gorsh.
Though not everyone is a small business owner, most Iowans know a small business owner or shop at one such store. Gorsh urges shopping at these beloved locations when possible. “Support small businesses that you love and cherish in any way you can because they need it right now,” she said. “Small businesses create the colorful fabric that is this state — it’s important that Iowans (and all communities, for that matter) stick together during this time. Mt. Vernon truly wouldn’t be the same without the shops on Main Street.”