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After a year that included post-fire rebuilding and a global pandemic, Crave Pie Studio hoping for big Small Business Saturday

The last 13 months have been filled with challenges for Crave Pie Studio owner Briana Carson.

In October 2019, a fire at a neighboring business damaged her pie shop in downtown Duluth and she had to close the shop for repairs. It came right as one of her normally busiest times of the year, Thanksgiving, was approaching. With no shop, she couldn’t fill any orders for the holiday season.

Then, as she neared being able to reopen her shop, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which more or less brought life to a standstill for small businesses owners everywhere. Even though Crave Pie’s shop was able to reopen over the summer, another business that had to close because of damage from the same fire that temporarily closed Crave Pie ultimately never reopened due to COVID-19, Carson said.

“It took eight months to get back in (the shop) and we finally did, and here we are in the middle of COVID,” Crave Pie’s owner said.

It’s because of the pandemic, and the hit small businesses took from having to close or at least considerably scale back the number of people who could be in the shops at one time, that this year’s Small Business Saturday is more important than it’s been in a longtime, according to Carson.

That annual spotlight for small businesses during the post-Thanksgiving period is coming up this weekend.

“It’s vitally important,” Carson said. “It has so much impact on our community and people are becoming more aware of that now, of how keeping their spending in the local community benefits the local community.”

As a sign of how the pandemic is hitting big and small businesses, however, the National Retail Federation is projecting that shoppers are more likely to do their Christmas shopping online rather than going to a physical store as reports of rising case numbers emerges.

That is expected to not only affect Small Business Saturday, but the day before it, Black Friday, as well.

Sixty percent of shoppers who participated in a holiday planning survey by the federation said they planned to buy at least some holiday items, including gifts, online this year, continuing a trend where online shopping has surged during the pandemic. For shoppers who do decide to do at least some shopping in a store, those businesses will have to take steps to ensure safety because of the pandemic.

National Federation of Independent Business State Director Nathan Humphrey said even shopping online from a small businesses website is a way to support locally owned businesses if a person can’t make it to the store in person.

“Georgia’s economy was doing well until the pandemic reached us,” Humphrey said. “Since then, shoppers have had to avoid crowds as much as possible. Retailers have installed plastic shields at the checkout, while restaurants have reduced capacity or limited themselves to take-out or delivery. Some businesses tried to cut their losses by closing temporarily, but some of them still haven’t reopened, and some of them never will.

“That’s why it’s important for people to support local businesses on Small Businesses Saturday and throughout the holiday season. Small businesses aren’t owned by some faceless corporation based someplace else. They’re owned by and employ our families, friends, and neighbors.”

Gwinnett Chamber Senior Director of Membership Services & Small Business Initiatives Cally D’Angelo added, “It is more important now than ever to support our local small businesses, the backbone of our economy. As a consumer, you can make conscious decisions that will help support our small business community and we encourage everyone to Shop Small this holiday season.”

Carson said there’s a lot of uncertainty about what Small Business Saturday will look like this year, in turns of shopper turnout, because of the pandemic.

“I don’t know what to expect this year,” she said. “I don’t know if anybody knows what to expect ... My hunch would be that we’re going to have a good, strong Small Business Saturday in (Duluth) because people, the community, has really rallied around small businesses.

“If it weren’t for the community understanding the importance of shopping local and shopping small, so many of us would have gone belly up.”

Carson said she was fortunate that the fire that closed her shop in late 2019 forced her to make the kind of pivot small businesses had to make during the pandemic nearly six months before COVID-19 arrived in Georgia. It was not until June that she could reopen her physical shop in Duluth following eight months of repairs.

She switched to doing a “Pie It Forward” program for awhile, offering her customers a chance to buy pies that would in turn to delivered to, initially first responders, and later health care workers during the last year’s holiday season and during the early days of the pandemic.

“We delivered almost 1,200 pies in the early months of the pandemic,” Carson said. “That literally kept our doors open, kept our employees employed and people in the community told us how much they appreciated being able to do something.

“They couldn’t go out and volunteer, so being able to do something to support a small business and show appreciation to first responders really, really resonated with people.”

With the store open once again, Carson and her team at Crave Pie have been busy filling orders for Thanksgiving. The shop took online orders only for Thanksgiving pies this year.

But, perhaps the biggest testament to how Carson has persevered as a small business owner, and continued to serve her community and fellow small business owners, during the pandemic is that she opened a second business next door to Crave.

That business, Provisions On Main, opened in August and is designed as a place where local artisan food vendors products can be sold. Carson buys the products from the vendors and then turns around and sells them to customers.

She’d thought of the concept before COVID-19, but the pandemic spurred her to put it into action.

“On one hand, it’s maybe a bad time to open a business in the middle of a pandemic, but on the other hand, it’s a good time to open this kind of business and just shine a spotlight on the local makers,” Carson said.

The vendors whose food is sold at Provisions on Main are people who normally make a living from selling their products at farmers markets and traveling around to festivals. Those are two avenues that are largely closed to these entrepreneurs because of the pandemic.

Everything from macaroni and cheese made by a vendor in Atlanta to whipped honey from a vendor in Savannah, traditional honey from a vendor in Suwanee and push pops from a vendor in Atlanta are sold in the store.

“What I’m trying to do here is give them a platform to sell (their products),” Carson said. “Having started Crave Pie as an independent food maker, I kind of have a heart for the makers. It all kind of ties in and relates and is a result of COVID.”

Both Crave Pie and Provisions on Main will be open for business on Small Business Saturday, even if they have to scale back somewhat on how all out they go to make it special for shoppers.

Gwinnett County nonprofit to host Thanksgiving dinner for those in need

More than a decade ago, while on a visit to Chicago, Trenessa Beene Pearson saw something that touched her heart – a man walking down the street wearing cardboard boxes in place of shoes.

The Suwanee resident resolved to do something when she returned home to help the underprivileged and underserved, but as most of us do at one time or another, she put off her plans for a later date.

“I was procrastinating,” said Pearson, matter-of-factly.

Fast-forward to 2018, when Pearson began a 91-day fast, eschewing bread, sweets, dairy and meat. It was at that time that Pearson began what she calls “my journey.”

“Most people fast for 21 days but God told me to do 91 days and I was like, ‘Really, God?” the Mississippi native said. “That’s when I began my journey.”

During this same time, Pearson’s sister was the recipient of a life-giving lung transplant and it was at that time that Pearson decided to put her long-held plans into action.

“During the time I was on the journey, I started a 501(c)(3), I became a notary and started doing stuff that was already in me to do,” she said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew I just had to help.”

Pearson, who moved to Gwinnett County in 2000, established Suwanee-based Transforming You Inc., what she terms as her ministry. Developed to offer assistance to homeless women and children, Transforming You has been active in the community, hosting a “Breaking the Cycles” conference, a Christmas Eve event called “The Gift of Giving” and a toy giveaway, and fundraisers for shoes and other necessities.

For the second consecutive year, Transforming You will host a Thanksgiving Day dinner from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at George Pierce Park in Suwanee with plans to feed the homeless and anyone else who would like a holiday meal. Last year’s inaugural event attracted some 100 diners and about 30 volunteers, but Pearson is well aware that this year’s dinner will be a bit different logistically.

“I started having small events and when Thanksgiving came last year, I felt I needed to do something in George Pierce Park because it’s not far from me,” she said. “… Everything went well last year. This year, due to COVID, we have to observe social distancing and all the CDC protocols, so there can be no more than 50 people in the building at one time.

“We’ll be providing hot meals and I’m giving out gift cards and toiletries and items that people less fortunate than you and me can always use.”

Pearson, who said she received assistance from Publix, Costco, Sam’s Club, Ted’s Montana Grill and donations from fellow churchgoers, family and friends to put on the Thanksgiving luncheon, added that tables of four will be set up to direct social distancing, although families will be allowed to sit together.

When asked how it felt to provide a little sunshine (and nourishment) for those who might otherwise go without, Pearson said, “I feel amazing. That’s my ministry…I grew up rather quickly and I always had the heart to give. It makes me feel awesome to know I’ve helped someone eat or get some soap to take a shower or get something they don’t have.”

While the Thanksgiving meal is currently her primary focus, Pearson said she’s also searching for a brick-and-mortar destination for a planned shelter for homeless women and children.

“I don’t have a location yet,” said Pearson, who holds membership in the Gwinnett Coalition, is a life coach and an ASD1 teacher at North Gwinnett Middle School. “I’ve been going since 2018 and I’m looking for a place to house homeless women and children. We go to different places like extended stay hotels, senior-assisted living places and we basically set up shop.

“We’ll set up a tent and have shoes and clothes and backpacks and toiletries and we serve food. We got to them because we don’t have a place. We just go wherever it’s needed and just set.

“Due to the pandemic, we shut down for two weeks and I finally said, ‘OK, guys we’re going to pray and God is going to cover us with his blood and we’re going to be just fine. Put the masks and the gloves on and let’s go’ – and we did.”

For more information on the Thanksgiving dinner at George Pierce Park and Transforming You Inc., email transformingyouinc@gmail.com or visit www.transformingyouinc.org.

Police identify suspect, victims in fatal triple shooting in unincorporated Lawrenceville

Gwinnett County police have identified three people who were killed in a shooting in an area listed as unincorporated Lawrenceville, off Pleasant Hill Road on Saturday, and also arrested a suspect in the case.

Police responded to a call about a person being shot on Creek Water Court, near the intersection with Brookcrest Street, at about 3:30 p.m. Officers arrived to find multiple deceased victims. The victims were identified on Sunday as Lawrenceville area residents Eugene McClam, 45, and Robert Caverly, 64, and Arabi resident Steven Finch, 33.

One male was found in a cul-de-sac and was transported to a local hospital, where he later died. Two other males were found dead in a nearby home. Police did not specify where each victim was found, but they said McClam and Caverly lived at the home where the shooting occurred.

“The motive for this crime is still under investigation,” police said.

Police said Stone Mountain resident Justice R. Lusk, 21, was identified as a suspect in the case. Police said he was arrested late Saturday night near the crime scene. He has been charged with three counts of felony murder, three counts of aggravated assault and three counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was booked into the Gwinnett Jail at about 5:30 a.m.

The scene is in a neighborhood located off Club Drive, between Pleasant Hill Road and Steve Reynolds Boulevard.

Anyone who has information about the shooting is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477.

Return to www.gwinnettdailypost.com for updates.

GCPS realigns schools in north Gwinnett to create new Seckinger cluster

Parents of Gwinnett County Public Schools students in part of north Gwinnett now know what cluster their kids will be in starting in 2022.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education has approved the realignment of schools that will make up the new Seckinger High School cluster that will go into effect when the new high school opens in a little more than a year and a half. It includes three elementary schools, a middle school and the cluster’s namesake high school.

“A little subcomponent of redistricting allows us to move entire schools through a process called realignment,” Gwinnett County Public Schools Associate Superintendent for School improvement and Operations Steve Flynt told the school board during a presentation last week. “(This) is not a full redistricting, but a reminder that we’re looking at actually just reassigning three elementary schools and one middle school to be the feeder schools for the Seckinger High School.”

Information provided to the school board on Nov. 19 show the new cluster alignment will go into effect in August 2022, which is when Seckinger High School is set to open its doors.

“We do want parents, we want teachers to know (about the realignment) so, over the next year when we step this work up even more, they’re going to know where they’re assigned for those students to go as far as the cluster (is concerned),” Flynt said.

The three elementary schools that will be in the new cluster include Harmony and Ivy Creek elementary schools, from the current Mill Creek cluster, and Patrick Elementary School, from the current Mountain View cluster.

Jones Middle School, which is currently part of the Mill Creek cluster, will serve as the lone middle school for the new Seckinger cluster.

Aside from having a new high school that students at those elementary and middle schools will matriculate to, the biggest change will be felt by Patrick Elementary School families. While students at Harmony and Ivy Creek elementary school already matriculate to Jones Middle School, Patrick Elementary School students currently advance to Twin River Middle School.

Flynt said Patrick Elementary School used to feed into Mill Creek High School, but currently feeds into Mountain View High School.

“(Patrick) needed to move to the Mountain View cluster because of overcrowding, and now Mountain View is overcrowded, so bringing Patrick back will balance enrollment very well across all of the three clusters,” Flynt said.