Pandemic leads gay-owned Creative Approach to shut down

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Creative Approach closed its popular Midtown Atlanta location after the coronavirus pandemic caused an 85 percent drop in revenue.

It was “a horrible feeling” to make the move, according to Cale Hall, the out owner of the design and printing company.

“We never would have thought in a million years that the pandemic would do this,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “2019 was our best year and we had planned to basically kick ass this year.”

Hall announced the closing on Facebook in July. The location closed later that month, five years to the day after it opened. The Savannah location of Creative Approach remains open.

Creative Approach experienced an immediate drop in revenue when the city ordered most businesses to close in March, even though officials deemed Creative Approach “essential.”

“That Friday we had about $30,000 of business cancel right then,” Hall said.

Much of Creative Approach’s business is supporting events but the pandemic ended those. Another big chunk of its revenue is printing portfolios and other projects for Georgia Tech and SCAD Atlanta students. But they moved to online learning and no longer needed as much printed materials.

So Hall decided to downsize the Atlanta location. The remaining employees worked from home, while just one worked in the Midtown shop.

“It just made no sense to sit there and lose $100,000 a month,” Hall said of the downsizing. “There’s no amount of stimulus that can help with that, unless I win the lottery.”

The federal Small Business Administration granted Creative Approach two pandemic loans that lasted through July. The writing was on the wall at that point, so Hall shifted from downsizing to shutting down.

The company had 44 employees before the pandemic. That’s now down 80 percent to a staff of just nine. Two Atlanta employees accepted Hall’s offer to move to relocate to the Savannah location.

The plan is to reopen Creative Approach in Atlanta, but it will look entirely different from before.

“Our Atlanta business model will change forever,” Hall said. “We had a nice showroom with lots of space. That probably won’t be needed anymore. We’re hoping by the end of 2021 we’ll have another brick-and-mortar spot in Midtown that will be a third of the size.”

The business suffered a series of setbacks before the pandemic – thanks to car thieves and burglars. Thieves smashed their way through the front door of the business with a rock and took 20 iMac computers – the first of three burglaries there in 2016. A stolen car crashed into the business in April, knocking down a street pole and shattering several windows.

Club One ‘held its own’ during pandemic

Another business of Hall’s — Club One in Savannah — held up much better through the pandemic than Creative Approach.

The LGBTQ nightclub shut down in March, reopened in June on a trial basis and closed down again after a coronavirus outbreak. When the club opened yet again, it did so with limited capacity and new safety precautions.

Patrons must wear masks and social distance while inside.

“We have to be very careful because you just never know,” Hall said. “The people there working make sure everybody keeps their masks on. They don’t play either.”

Savannah’s longstanding open container policy created a lifeline for Savannah’s bars and clubs, according to Hall. Patrons can walk around the Historic District with alcoholic drinks as long as they are in plastic 16-ounce cups.

“People in Savannah are used to being able to take their drink and walk around, so with the pandemic going on, people aren’t really congregating inside, they’re walking around,” Hall said. “So that’s really been helpful to us because people drink. They’re going to drink.”

The club also received two small loans from the federal Small Business Administration. And most of the employees have come back. It’s all led Club One to hang in there through this year’s upheaval.

“It’s held its own during the pandemic,” Hall said.

This story is made possible by a grant from Facebook Journalism Project’s COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund.

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