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Knocked down before, Gorham native steels for Covid-19 aftermath

Karen Nason

By Jeff Ryan

Karen Nason and her businesses have lived through a lot. On a September morning in 2001, she stood in front of her cafe in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City watching in horror as the infamous second plane hurtled toward the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

“It was a devastating day for the nation and New York City,” she recalls. “While many images of tragedy have lingered, one bright spot has stayed with me from that day. It’s the way we all rallied together. I remember everyone hugging and consoling each other in my shop, saying, ‘We will get through this.” 

And get through it she did. 

When her business reopened, she had transformed her cafe into a jazz/wine bar/flower shop—complete with a baby grand piano in the center of it all. “It was a business within a business and it really took off. The right idea at the right time”, she says.

She probably would have stayed there if the real estate prices didn’t encourage a change of venue.

Off to Hoboken:

In 2009, Karen moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, where she opened two businesses—a pizzeria and a flower shop.” 

Then came October, 2012. This time, her businesses were directly in the path of an economic disaster backed by hurricane force winds. “Hurricane Sandy wiped me out,” Karen says. “I remember walking away from my flower shop through knee deep water with tears in my eyes. Everything was destroyed. But, you know, I survived that, too. There’s a time in the rebuilding process when people start coming back and you go home at night thinking, you know, I just might make it through.”

Returning to Gorham:

Last winter, Karen decided that is was time to come back to Maine. She wanted to spend time with her mom, who was in failing health. She and her husband were also excited to build a new business together in her hometown.

Last November, Grand Central Wine Bar opened for business just in time for the holidays. Everything was going swimmingly until March, when Covid-19 arrived in our midst. 

“Saint Paddy’s Day was it”, says Karen. “Like almost everyone, we had to shut everything down the very next day. Even worse, a week later, my mom passed away. Thankfully, I was able to be with her, mask, gloves and all. Some people who have gone through similar circumstances haven’t been as fortunate. It was because it was still early in the spread of the disease.”

Rebuilding—Part 3:

“We’ve certainly been down this road before, but what makes this time different is that the breadth of the problem—it’s nationwide. It’s going to take a lot of perseverance to make it back and even then, we need to know that things aren’t going to be quite the same.”

With so many moving pieces involved at the local, state and federal levels, it’s hard not to be frustrated. Karen cites the five times she’s had to apply for SBA loans because they keep changing the requirements. “It wouldn’t be as bad if they didn’t make us start at square one again every time,” she says. “It’s a little, let’s say, baffling.”

In between checking for loan updates, the Nasons are moving forward with their next iteration of the Grand Central Wine Bar. The tables will be fewer and farther apart, the menu will be a little different, weddings and special events for intimate gatherings will be a new focus, but one thing won’t change one iota—the piano will still be front and center. “Music is everything to me”, Karen says. “I built my business around it and it will be one of the familiar sounds customers hear when they come back. We’re all looking forward to that day. It’s what keeps us going.” 

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