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Motorcyclist dead after crash on Loop 288
  • Updated

Updated at 4:49 p.m.

A motorcyclist died Wednesday following a crash with another vehicle on Loop 288, authorities said.

North Loop 288 at Spencer Road was closed for roughly three hours following the crash Wednesday morning. Northbound traffic was blocked by Denton police cars and diverted at Spencer until lanes reopened.

Authorities with the Denton police and fire departments confirmed one of the vehicles involved was a motorcycle. The motorcyclist was taken to a local hospital shortly after and was later pronounced dead.

The victim’s identity will not be released until family is notified, Denton Police Department spokesperson Allison Beckwith said. His age wasn’t available Wednesday.

The northbound lanes of North Loop 288 were closed starting at Spencer Road just before 8 a.m. The crash occurred farther north in the 1200 block of South Loop 288. A van was turned on its side following the crash.

Beckwith said at 8 a.m. that first responders were actively working the crash. The road was reopened around 11 a.m. More information on the crash wasn’t available Wednesday.

The motorcyclist is the fourth person in Denton killed in a vehicle crash and the second motorcyclist to die following a crash this year. Another motorcyclist, Kasey Erwin, 29, of Ponder died March 10 at a hospital after a crash in the 5000 block of Country Club Road.

Denton businesses find new life after pandemic closures
  • 5 min to read

When Juice Lab’s brick-and-mortar space on South Elm Street had to close amid the COVID-19 pandemic, owner Loni Puckett thought that might be the end for the smoothie and juice bar.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Puckett said.

But a few months later, she found a path to reopen in a new form.

After temporarily shuttering amid county shutdown orders, Juice Lab reopened in May 2020 at the prompting of the landlord who owns the nearly 2,000-square-foot space the restaurant was in. But Puckett soon discovered that she couldn’t make rent given the 85-90% reduction in sales Juice Lab was experiencing and closed permanently.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, Puckett wasn’t ready to commit to another long-term building lease, so she wasn’t sure what might become of Juice Lab until the owners of Sweetwater Grill & Tavern and Mulberry Street Cantina reached out to her about a food truck that local caterer and restaurateur Jimmy Meredith had for lease.

Puckett got a grant from the Denton County OPEN program, which was aimed at helping business owners impacted by the pandemic, and leased the truck. She now operates Juice Lab out of it three days a week in front of Mulberry Street Cantina, storing product in Mulberry’s walk-in cooler.

The juice bar is one of several local businesses that have found new beginnings after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted them to shut down in 2020.

Success in new forms

Mad World Records, which operated a storefront on the Denton Square for nine years, closed its doors in June and moved its inventory to an online store that has been operating since, owner Mark Burke said.

One factor in Burke’s decision to close the store was that his family was impacted personally by the pandemic early on. Burke’s brother — a former employee at the record store who now lives in New York City — contracted a particularly bad case of COVID-19 through his work with people who have special needs. Now, about a year after getting sick, he still suffers from complications, including fevers and lung trouble, though Mark Burke said his brother was healthy and athletic before contracting the virus.

“We had no desire to be any kind of source where people are going to go in and touch everything and breathe on everything and be in this enclosed space,” Burke said. “We were always so busy with so many people, even if they weren’t buying stuff. There are so many people on the Square all the time that it was just a germ trap, and my wife and I both decided there’s no way we’re going to put money over lives.”

While the change has been a drastic one — Mad World did not sell records online at all before the pandemic, preferring to keep inventory local — the business has found success in its new form, Burke said. The online store allows sales to all 50 states, and local shoppers can still get records delivered to their door or pick up their orders at More Fun Toys!, which operates out of Mad World’s former location at 115 W. Hickory St.

And although it has been extra work with just Mark and his wife, Maria, handling Mad World — his wife also works a full-time job — it has allowed Burke to spend more time at home with the couple’s son, Wren.

“I feel like if I had the store still open, I wouldn’t know him as well as I do now, and vice versa,” Mark Burke said.

Reduction in staff also has affected the workload at Juice Lab. At their busiest, the juice bar employed 12 people alongside Puckett, who managed the day-to-day. Now, Puckett runs Juice Lab alone, meaning she no longer serves food in addition to drinks as she did on South Elm, and she had to reduce her operating days to Thursday through Saturday.

“I just can’t physically work the truck any more than I am already doing because on the other days I have to receive my orders and also still do our custom cold-press juicing that covers our cleanses and bottle programs,” Puckett said. “There’s just not enough time in the day for me to do everything.”

Entering new territory

For Board at Home owner Katie Burke, the pandemic also brought an end to business as she knew it.

Board at Home was made up of Katie Burke and a team of artists who guided guests in crafting wooden sign boards and other decor items at home parties. The business was growing in 2019, with team members across North Texas, in North Carolina and Oklahoma, and plans to expand into Austin. But when the pandemic hit, demand for the type of events Board at Home helped host declined drastically.

“Board at Home kind of died with COVID,” said Burke, who is unrelated to Mark Burke.

Katie Burke tried to pivot the business online, but with a new baby on the way and her team members focused on their own families amid the pandemic, Board at Home fizzled.

But now, with the possibility for increased mobility as the vaccine becomes more widely available, Burke said she sees an opportunity to take the concept behind Board at Home and fold it into a new, broader event-planning business: Madeby Events.

While Board at Home centered around making sign boards at home parties, Madeby, while still offering private events such as office parties, will focus on working with businesses to host public DIY events that will help bring people back into commercial spaces. And Madeby will offer different kinds of creative events, from bracelet stacking to the home decor that was at the heart of Board at Home.

Burke said Madeby events allow for space between participants and for everyone to have their own materials to work with. With parties being hosted inside local businesses, Burke said she plans to follow the guidelines businesses have in place as well as CDC recommendations.

Madeby’s first event, a bracelet stack, will be Saturday at Roanoke Trading Co. from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. When the event service gets off the ground and eventually has more team members, Burke said she also hopes to help boost other local creatives, allowing them to list events on Madeby’s page and acting as a consultant to support makers.

“I really want to help local businesses activate their spaces because I know a lot of them have plenty of space, but people haven’t been coming out,” Burke said. “And so, you know, giving them a reason to come out [for] something to do and get out of the house and utilizing those spaces is something that we can all benefit from.”

More to come?

Other local businesses also are hinting at comebacks. Free Play Denton, which closed in July, has posted several “loading” graphics on its Facebook page over the past few months seeming to suggest it would be back, as the post announcing its closure last summer promised. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which closed its Denton location in September, also announced in March that plans to reopen during the next few months remain unchanged.

While many Denton businesses did not survive the pandemic, for these and others, hope remains. Mad World is doing well online, and the Burkes have no plans to open a storefront again, Mark Burke says. At Juice Lab, the smaller operation has meant lower overhead. Puckett hopes warmer weather will bring more customers and, eventually, allow her to hire staff and expand her operating days and menu again.

“I almost just feel like the universe is pulling me and Juice Lab along because we’re supposed to be here,” Puckett said. “I’ve been able to have these opportunities come up, especially during the pandemic, that I don’t think a lot of other people have had. I feel very fortunate for that.”

Timing, conditions ripe for Denton Plant Factory's opening, owners say
  • Updated

When customers walk into Denton Plant Factory, a bright mosaic of color greets them. Large gerbera daisy baskets, salvia and dianthus populate the front section of the nursery for now, but the varieties are rotated regularly, making room for new life as more plants come in.

As guests make their way to the back of the space, they exit through a garage door to an oasis of shrubbery, fruit trees and other plants stretching across an ever-expanding green space on the 4.2-acre property.

The inventory customers see today is just a start, if you ask Simon Fuhrmann and Hunter Zmolik, co-owners of Denton Plant Factory, located at 1421 N. Loop 288 near University Drive. Indoor plants as well as soil, mulch and other gardening supplies occupy the 7,700 square feet of enclosed space in the property’s two warehouses, while much of the nursery’s trees, shrubs and perennials bloom in shop’s vast outdoor space.

With almost 1,000 plant species in stock, just under 25% of the space has been filled, Zmolik said.

“I think in our vision, we saw a space this big [as being] kind of what Denton needed on this side of town,” Zmolik said.

Having formerly worked with the Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility to restore native plant populations and briefly in landscaping, Zmolik has a long relationship with all things green. He studied, among other things, biology at the University of North Texas, though he ultimately left before graduating.

Zmolik and Fuhrmann, who both grew up in the Denton area, met while working at a local nursery together in 2019, Fuhrmann being a longtime outdoorsman with a background in landscaping. The pair discovered they both had an entrepreneurial mindset, and the concept for Denton Plant Factory was born.

“I’ve always wanted to start a nursery, and then Simon came along, and it was kind of the perfect yin to my yang,” Zmolik said. “I’m good with the plants — the financial parts, you know, it takes me a long time to learn that — so having him here has worked out perfectly, and we make a great team.”

The two originally planned on waiting a few years to take the plunge and start their own business, but when the former Zimmerer Kubota & Equipment space became available, the timing seemed right.

“There was a huge demand last year — with 2020, everyone’s staying at home and working in their gardens, the demand for plants went up, so we decided to kind of ride that wave,” Zmolik said. “And in the midst of doing all that, the snowstorm happened, which killed off a lot of people’s plants, creating an even higher demand.”

Though that demand is good for business, it has created some problems getting inventory, meaning Denton Plant Factory cannot yet provide bulk supplies to landscapers without hurting their retail stock, but they hope to eventually.

In the meantime, they have plenty to keep them busy. Since the two are managing the store with the help of just one other team member, Fuhrmann and Zmolik say it has made for some long days, but that they want to find the right fit before they expand their staff. Experience with plants is important because the pair say they want to provide a customer experience different from what’s offered at big-box stores.

“I think when you get to the big-box store, what really happens is the training with the employees isn’t there,” Fuhrmann said. “[We’re about] the education and the quality material and being able to get the price there so you’re not feeling like you have to buy from a box store if you’re on a budget.”

Staff are not just out to make a sale, Zmolik said — they want to ensure what a customer plans to take home will be a good fit. They typically ask how much space a grower has and where the plant will be placed, asking for a picture when possible. Customers are encouraged to call the nursery if they have any questions after taking their greenery home so staff can diagnose any problems before they become severe.

Fuhrmann and Zmolik say they want to help plant enthusiasts and novices alike become more educated. They hope to eventually host educational sessions in which staff and specialists can talk about topics such as native species, pollinator promoters and xeriscaping. Promoting biodiversity by bringing more native plants to the area is also central to the shop’s mission, and educational classes could help promote awareness about why biodiversity is important and how to promote it through healthy gardening habits.

And despite the continued effort it may take to get the shop where they want it — both in terms of inventory and services — the duo say they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.

“It’s been a lot of hours here and a lot of hard work, but very much worth it,” Zmolik said. “It’s a labor of love.”