In March 2020, small business owners everywhere wondered how to save their livelihoods.
In the small village of Fort Edward, three entrepreneurial efforts did not just carry on amidst worldwide pandemic panic, but they in fact thrived.
Located on Broadway, the main street of the community, owners of neighboring Underwood Park CrossFit, Slickfin Brewing Co., and Stumpy’s Pizzeria share a similar mindset of doing the best they can no matter the circumstances. Each of these businesses has opened within the last six years.
“A pandemic is a big challenge, for sure,” said Lauren Grogan, co-owner of Underwood Park CrossFit with her husband, Michael Plank. “But we’re used to challenges. None of us started our businesses thinking that success would come easy. There is opportunity in challenge, and we believe in our products and the community we’ve invested in.”
Learn how three different businesses embraced opportunity, supporting each other and their community, during a year of uncertainty.
Slickfin Brewing Company
Of the three businesses, Slickfin Brewing Company opened most recently, having started renovations to 147 Broadway in 2018.
Owned by Marine Corps veterans, Kris and Heather March, Slickfin is a popular microbrewery creating varieties of artisanal craft beer.
After four military tours, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kris retired and started brewing beer as a hobby. At the time, he was working at a robotics company in Boston, commuting from Queensbury.
“I started thinking of taking brewing to the next level because every time I took my beer to family functions or parties, it was gone in fifteen minutes,” said Kris.
Seeking a site for his brewery, Kris says he was drawn to Washington County, as his wife had grown up in Fort Ann. He stumbled upon the Fort Edward location.
“The small town matters. It’s very hard to put into words but it’s kind of like the village of Fort Edward and Slickfin were waiting for each other,” said Kris. “I think our success is part ingenuity and part massive support from the community. We’ve seen that during these past few months.”
Amidst the pandemic’s beginnings, Kris and Heather launched curbside pickups and home deliveries, maintaining an active social media presence about their beverage selections. Kris shared that the on-tap sour beers and blonde ales are massive sellers. Additionally, specialty stouts and their hard seltzers are popular.
On continuing business throughout COVID-19, Kris credits his military training for allowing him to stay calm and keep his options open.
“I strive to have three courses of action ready to go in any situation, and then work to find the best fit,” said Kris. “Marine Corps taught me that. Always remain flexible.”
Kris and Heather experienced many pivoting moments throughout this year. Once patrons were allowed back into the business, Slickfin initially opened, but soon opted to return to curbside delivery growing concerned they would not be able to safely handle the demand of on-site customers. Once they re-opened later, partitions were added between tables indoors to keep customers safe. Slickfin even kept an open mind when it came to their products, launching hard slushies this past summer, which were massive hits.
“I received calls from brewers throughout the country about the slushies,” said Kris, who developed flavors like margarita, wild berry lemonade, and even chocolate covered strawberry. As the temperatures have cooled, Slick Fin has continued creative recipes, offering hot apple cider riptide.
The combination of great products and community support continues to see Slickfin through the uncertainty of the “new normal.”
Said Kris: “I think between CrossFit, Stumpy’s and Slickfin, we have catered to a vast amount of people from all walks and interests, and we promote each other to everyone. It’s very harmonious.”
Up next for Slickfin and the village is an exciting expansion. Kris is currently working with the Lake Champlain Lake George Regional Planning Board on a loan to purchase the brewery’s building. Additional plans are in process to create a backyard outdoor space facing the Hudson River of Fort Edward’s yacht basin.
From a young age, Amy Stumvoll knew she wanted to own a pizzeria.
“It’s a hard life, but I love it,” said Amy, who has worked in various pizza businesses since her teenage years.
Originally from a small town, Amy knew her dream would become a reality after exploring the 165 Broadway site that was previously home to Angelina’s Pizza in Fort Edward. Amy purchased and renovated the building, adding Adirondack-themed décor and comfortable dine-in seating. In August 2017, Stumpy’s was born.
The business was an immediate success with Fort Edward.
“People get excited when they see a new business come in,” said Amy. “The community is nothing but supportive. They rally behind you.”
Amy has made it a priority to build relationships with her customers, and shared that of all her frustrations with the pandemic, it bothers her the most that she doesn’t converse with patrons as she did prior to March 2020.
“I still felt optimistic about my business when the pandemic started,” said Amy, who shared that her takeout orders have remained strong. “But our indoor dining base has been obliterated. Our relationship with our customers has unfortunately become much more transactional as a result of COVID.”
Still, the community embraces Stumpy’s recipes. A strong mix of traditional and creative pizzas are available (the community loves Stumpy’s pickle pizza!). Stumpy’s menu includes an ample selection of “classics,” according to Amy, such as penne alla vodka, sausage and pepper parmesan dinner, and a top seller: chicken riggies (rigatoni with fresh mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and hot peppers cooked in a cream sauce).
It’s Amy’s combination of quality products and community involvement that keeps Stumpy’s thriving. She shared that Slickfin and Stumpy’s have a great friendship, having launched a special menu together to feed Slickfin’s hungry patrons. Amy also launched a “Pizza for a Purpose” pizza-eating contest, raising thousands of dollars for the Adirondack Vet House. When she heard local law enforcement was hoping to add a police dog to their team, Amy arranged for proceeds of her food sales to go to the cause. Soon after, Rookie, a black lab, was added to Fort Edward Police.
“CrossFit, Slickfin, and Stumpy’s all have the best interests of Fort Edward in mind,” shared Amy. “We believe in giving back to this unique and remarkable little community.”
Underwood Park CrossFit
The first of the three businesses to open in Fort Edward, Underwood Park CrossFit opened at 143 Broadway in 2014 with what Lauren Grogan calls “a handful of members.”
Over time, the fitness and nutritional coaching facility has grown tremendously, at one point bringing 500 visits a week to Fort Edward. The facility also has members from as far as Niskayuna, and many throughout Warren, Washington, and Saratoga counties.
“The pandemic has taught us that our product is not our physical space or our equipment,” said Lauren. “We’re coaches meeting the physical, mental, and emotional needs of our community.”
Remarkably, even with a closed building for months, CrossFit’s membership stayed strong.
“Prior to COVID, we were already reassessing how to bring our coaching methods anywhere,” Lauren shared. “The pandemic has been an opportunity to pursue virtual method delivery.”
Implementing this method was not without challenges. Lauren shared her husband, Michael Plank, often began filming individualized daily coaching videos for members at 5 a.m., and coaches diligently kept in touch with members using mobile apps throughout each day. The past few months have also allowed the Underwood team to explore new programming. They sold out of memberships to a virtual nutrition coaching program this past summer. Once on-site workouts were permitted, Michael and Lauren also conceptualized an 8-13 year old children’s fitness program.
“With so many programs being canceled, and physical activities being limited, the program for kids has been well received,” said Lauren.
Lauren acknowledged that during the height of the pandemic, workout facilities gained media attention in part because of how long sites had to wait to re-open. Despite this challenge, Lauren shared that the circumstances provided opportunity for re-imagining services. Plus she and Michael prioritized keeping the community safe.
“Complaining is not constructive,” shared Lauren. “I think all of us– Michael, Kris and Heather, Amy and myself, are forward-thinking, positive people always looking at how we can grow both as individual businesses and as a community.”
On being in Fort Edward, Lauren shared, “Michael and I are so proud to have our cool, unique building be alive, and have it look great. There is so much room to grow in this community.”
Being Part of Fort Edward’s Future
Each business owner is optimistic for the village’s future, and hopeful more businesspeople consider the community to for their future homes.
Already in 2020, additional businesses have opened such as Evergreen Bicycle Works (located inside the Fort Edward train station), Ye Deli (on the corner of Broadway and East Street), and Hope & Nena’s Riverview Restaurant on Broadway.
“There are so many great resources here,” said Lauren. “It’s an honor to lend ideas to the community, and be a real contributor to growth.”
Amy added, “We’re different. You’re never going to find a community like this anywhere else with the train station and the yacht basin. Entrepreneurs should come talk to us. Talk to the community. We have empty storefronts where your vision can come to fruition.”
Special thanks to M.B. Kilmer Funeral Homes for supporting this story.
Says Todd Kilmer, President: Having proudly served Washington County since 1927, the team at M.B. Kilmer Funeral Homes is always delighted to see other businesses start and expand their operations in this wonderful region of New York. We are proud to support our neighbors on historic Broadway, and we commend Michael, Lauren, Kris, Heather, and Amy for their positive contributions to the village of Fort Edward.
Follow the featured businesses on social media by visiting the Facebook pages of Slick Fin Brewing Company (Instagram: @slickfin_brewing), Stumpy’s Pizzeria (Instagram: @stumpyspizzeria) Underwood Park CrossFit (Instagram: @underwoodparkcrossfit), and M.B. Kilmer Funeral Homes.