When Sherri Brooks decided to open her own business in downtown Jasper earlier this year, little did she know she would not only be facing the struggles of a new business, but also the struggles many others are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
SherNutrition, located on Commerce Avenue in Jasper, officially opened on March 23, the same day Alabama closed down schools across the state. Five days later, all nonessential businesses were required to close. As a business with a Category 2 food permit, SherNutrition was allowed to remain open, but Brooks had to act quickly to adapt to curbside service.
“It's hurt us because we can't have people come in, but it's also helped us get adjusted to what people would want more,” Brooks said. “We thought the people would want shakes – we sell a lot of shakes, but we sell probably double the number of teas. So now we've added an additional tea stand for people to work in so we don't get backed up.”
Despite the early success, Brooks said as a first-time business owner, she was nervous about opening her own shop after spending 25 years as a MRI and x-ray technician. When her former employer closed down, the single mother of three was not sure where to turn.
“I had no clue what I was going to do,” she recalled thinking. “The first two weeks I cried every day after I got the email, just thinking ‘What am I going to do?'
“I went to Birmingham and went on a few interviews, but I just did not want to work in Birmingham,” she said. “I wanted to stay local and stay around here. It took me a long time to decide what I was going to do. One morning I just woke up and was like 'I'm going open my own business.'”
The idea of opening a nutrition bar came from her longtime best friend, Shelly Latham, who suggested the idea to Brooks.
“There was a place in Winfield that is a nutrition place, so I called them,” she said. “They were so nice and told me everything that I needed to do and that's how I got started. Shelly and I went up there and looked at their place and tried their products.”
After draining her retirement fund to open SherNutrition, Brooks’ vision quickly became a reality when she found the shop's future home in downtown Jasper.
“I wanted to be around the community, where it wasn't so fast paced,” she said. “When we pulled up here, I thought, 'This is it, we're doing this downtown. Downtown is where I want to be.' We're kind of on the outskirts of downtown, but not so far that people still come by.”
Brooks said foot traffic has helped her business, including runners that are making a stop at SherNutrition part of their route.
Once all nonessential businesses were shut down, Brooks set up what she calls a “lemonade stand” at the front door, where customers have lined up as far as the stop sign at 19th Street East. She said that the city has told her she can fully open, but must limit capacity to five customers at a time. Brooks said she can serve more people with the curbside service than allowing just five people at a time to come and go.
“I can not wait to have everybody to be able to come in,” Brooks said. “Even that first week, we would have every one of these stools filled and they would be standing up against the walls. We started off with doing maybe 150 drinks per day. Now we are probably up to 250 per day.”
With very little advertising, that success has come from Facebook and word-of-mouth. Brooks says that she has a lot of repeat customers, including members of both the Jasper Police Department and Walker County Sheriff's Office, who have been very supportive of her and the shop.
“I didn't want to work in Birmingham,” she said. “I'm not a big-city person and I wanted back in my element. I always really wanted to stay in Walker County, but I never dreamed they would support me this much when I started.”