GALION — After enjoying early success, the past year has been a struggle for Fox Winery, due in large part to restrictions imposed after the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Ohio, according to its owner.
Ron Fox opened the winery, located at 227 Harding Way East in Uptowne Galion, in the early fall of 2017 after jumping through hoops to obtain federal permits and approval for the labels the winery sells.
“We served our first glass of wine on Sept. 23, 2017,” said Fox, who has been making wine for 32 years. “We actually did pretty good in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, it kind of went down hill. For starters, I was injured in a car accident in 2019, so my production dropped off. … We had a really good Christmas season in 2019, but then March of 2020 hit.”
While the business was shut down during the early stages of the pandemic, Fox developed a website — foxwineryllc.com — to promote and sell his products. He said website sales have been hit and miss. Business has still not rebounded to what it was pre-pandemic, Fox said.
“I went from doing $10,000 to $12,000 a month in sales to where I’m lucky if I hit $2,000 or $2,500 a month now,” Fox said. “Most of what I bring in goes to rent and utilities and what I have left over goes to buying the supplies I need to keep wine in stock. Even then, that wasn’t enough.”
Fox was forced to dip into his retirement accounts to keep the business open and afloat, he said.
“I was at my wit’s end,” he said. “When my retirement accounts ran out, I applied for a grant from the state, and even though I paid sales tax on my sales every single month, the State of Ohio disqualified me because they couldn’t verify my employment. I don’t take a salary from the winery. I haven’t taken a nickel out of this company (in salary) since I started. Because I didn’t have a salary, I couldn’t get a PPP loan or a grant.”
When the Galion-Crestline Area and Bucyrus Area chambers of commerce announced that they were accepting applications for the Small Business Relief Grant Program, Fox said he was skeptical about his chances of being selected based on his experience with the federal and state programs.
“I talked to them day one and said, ‘I don’t have a payroll, so what chance do I have?’” Fox said. “(Galion-Crestline Chamber Executive Director Miranda Jones) said, ‘You have a good chance to get it. We want to keep you in Galion.’ So I ended up getting a grant from our chamber of commerce. That’s the only reason I’m still here today. … (The grant) I got is going to keep (the winery) alive for probably six months”
Fox Winery was among the 177 local small businesses that received a grant from the Galion-Crestline Area and Bucyrus Area chambers of commerce. Fox received $7,500 in grant funding from the chamber program, he said. The two chambers distributed a total of $800,000 in grant funding made available by the Crawford County Commissioners through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Jones said she hopes more funding for local businesses will be available in the near future, but they’ll have to wait and see what transpires.
“The need is great here in Crawford County to help our businesses, so if there is any other funding, we will gladly do another round of grants, if possible,” Jones said.
Fox said the winery has gained a “fairly decent” fan following from the Columbus area and he’s been considering opening a second location there in an effort to grow the business.
“We’ve had customers from all over the state,” Fox said. “We get a decent number from Mansfield now and that took a while. We’re getting more from Mansfield than we do from Galion now, actually. We’re getting more people come up from Columbus. My wines are good. People who come here like them. … There’s a diabetic lady who comes up from Columbus once a month and buys six bottles of wine. She says my wines are the only ones that don’t cause her blood sugar to spike.”
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