Saturday, January 26, 2019

The cost of doing business: Centerville woman's dream of selling dresses crippled by debt -

Sheila Shelton owns the old Computer Zone building at 306 North 12th St. in Centerville, Iowa/Beth Waldon

A Centerville woman has poured her heart into a business plan she hopes someday will come to fruition. But the crippling costs of doing business are testing her faith.

Sheila Shelton is clinging to a longtime dream of opening a discount dress shop in downtown Centerville, Iowa.

"I want every girl to feel beautiful on her special day,” Shelton Said. “You shouldn't have to pay $500 for a dress."

Shelton has dresses, hundreds of dresses. What she needs now is a suitable place to sell them.

Two years ago, Shelton found what appeared to be an ideal space to do business. She purchased the former computer zone building on the west side of the Centerville square.

But since then, Shelton said the historic building has become impossible to maintain, ultimately making it impossible to start a business.

"I don't know if people fully evaluate the risks of an older building," said Centerville City Administrator Jason Fraser. "When you have a building that's facing $100,000 to $150,000 of repairs... you're going to have that extra hurdle to get over."

City leaders and neighboring business owners have questioned the stability of Shelton's building. The back wall, specifically, became a safety concern. Which is where Shelton says she reached a disagreement with the city.

"My engineer has stated, you know, a licensed engineer, that your buildings are not going to be harmed by any of this," she said.

Shelton lost that argument, and as a result, her building was condemned in February 2017. Months later, the city council voted to move forward with necessary repairs.

"If the envelope of a building isn't kept up 100 percent, the walls start to fail," Fraser said. "And we've seen that, actually on quite a few buildings, and we have had collapses here in Centerville."

As the building's owner, Shelton is expected cover the cost of recent repairs, which she says amount to roughly $35,000.

"I can't get insurance for the building because it's not hooked up to electric heat or water," Shelton said. "I can't get a loan because nobody will loan me money because of the situation that it's in."

In December, the city offered to take the building off of Shelton's hands. But Shelton tells KTVO she can't bring herself to give it up.

"I've invested a lot of my time and a lot of myself into this building that means a lot to me," Shelton said. "I have dreams for it."

Her options now are limited.

"I'm down to a point where, this is it," Shelton said. "If I can't do this, then, I'm back to no home, I'm back to no dream, I'm back to reality."

The city couldn't offer her a loan, but one suggestion a council member made was that Shelton consult with the Small Business Administration office in Ottumwa.

Bryan Ziegler, Director of the Small Business Development Center at Indian Hills Community College says it's his job to help aspiring entrepreneurs like Shelton.

"What we could do now is look at (her situation), from the standpoint of, what is the equity in the building, and where is she at in terms of the investment she's made and the value," Ziegler said. "Any improvements you do to it, is going to improve the market value, or the collateral value."

Ziegler said he offers free consultation. To set up an appointment, call 641-683-5127.

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