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story.lead_photo.caption Chez Monet's Joan Fairfax is seen creating delicious confections in her home-based business in Jefferson City. She closed her High Street storefront in 2013, but in 2018 re-opened the restaurant in the Missouri State Capitol. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

On the final day of the 2018 Missouri legislative session, Chez Monet Patisserie owner Joan Fairfax stood at a cash register in the back of the restaurant in the Missouri State Capitol in a daze.

Even as the eatery closed that afternoon, a dozen or so patrons scrambled to gather food before the doors shut.

Fairfax sat at a table in the dining room, thankful she survived the session.

In January, she opened the restaurant — her second retail location, but her first in five years — and instantly felt consumed by the daily crush of hungry legislators, their staff members and other visitors.

"It's not like you can step back and take a breath," Fairfax said, sipping a cup of water. Her voice pitched high from exhaustion and excitement. "It just keeps coming."

Just six weeks later, Fairfax talked in a more reserved tone. She always knew her business would depend largely on the profits it made during the legislative session, but reality still hurt.

"I guess I didn't realize how busy busy would be and how slow slow would be," Fairfax said.

Such is the plight for seasonal businesses like Fairfax's.

Owners of seasonal businesses across the region describe their operations as sprints that maximize the amount of money they can make in a short period of time. Area seasonal business owners said managers must understand their clientele, keep overhead costs low and cobble together a flexible workforce.

Some business owners like Fairfax work full-time at their seasonal business. Others work full time jobs to support their seasonal hobby. And some use their seasonal business to support other hobbies.

Lesson 1: Knowing your clientele

Before her Capitol venture, Fairfax never ran a seasonal business. Opened in 1991, her High Street bakery was the home where her passion of baking cookies and cakes flourished. But in 2013, she closed the High Street shop and moved the operation to her Mulberry Street home.

Last winter, Fairfax decided to open her Capitol location in an effort to convince her daughter-in-law to move to Jefferson City from Farmington. Chez Monet sells breakfast and lunch items like soups and sandwiches at its Capitol location. At the same time, Fairfax maintains that bakery in her home.

She always knew Capitol patrons would make up a majority of her business during the legislative session, which helps her during the lean months after session ends.

Going in, though, Fairfax believed the reputation Chez Monet carried in the community would help draw in locals from outside the Capitol and bolster business during the offseason. In May, she even thought her business could be more profitable because she could pick and choose the things she wanted to make.

In June, Fairfax said business slowed to a trickle, now just 20-25 percent of what she saw during the spring.

Lesson 2: Managing overhead

Jacob Neeley, left, and Matt Luadzers own Summit Snow in Holts Summit.

Just to open her Capitol location, Fairfax blew through her savings and maxed out her credit cards. A sweetheart lease from the Missouri Office of Administration allows her to pay just $50 per month in rent. The state also covers the cost of utilities.

One day, Fairfax hopes to recoup her investment. For now, she said the favorable lease allows her to scratch by.

"That makes the difference," she said. "If I had to pay rent here, I couldn't."

Matt Luadzers and Jacob Neeley run Summit Snow in Holts Summit. Cousins born a day apart, Luadzers and Neeley consider themselves proficient in business at a bare minimum.

Luadzers owns Jefferson City internet marketing firm Central Missouri Gogiro. Neeley works for U.S. Cellular. Both believe they've filled the needs of their clients — serving snow cones in a community that previously lacked a snow cone shop — but it's the other parts of the business they say they've yet to master.

From the start, the project ran into delays, which ate into their first season in business. When the pair began the project in 2016, they wanted to invest $5,000 each. Once they decided to convert an office at 175 W. Simon Blvd. into a snow cone shop, they struggled to tear out the carpet.

"We looked at each other and had no idea what to do," Luadzers said. "We knew what capital we wanted to put into it. Then we got into it, and things started to change pretty quick."

Because of the delays, Summit Snow didn't open until the beginning of July 2016. During its first two seasons, the business did not turn a profit.

During their first off season, Luadzers and Neeley subleased their stall to a local baker. Last winter, they held onto the space the entire time, and the rental bills did not stop coming. Both men still hate talking about the financial bath they took last winter as the bills mounted.

As their third season begins to wind down, Summit Snow finds itself at a crossroads. Luadzers and Neeley opened the business with the goal of being in it for at least a decade. After the season, though, the lease on their stall will end.

"If money wasn't an issue, it'd be great," Luadzers said. "It was a painful winter."

Some local business owners use their seasonal profit to fund other businesses.

Timber View Tree Farm owner Daryll Raitt is seen at his Christmas tree farm near Hartsburg. Raitt said most people don't realize the year-round work that goes into growing Christmas trees.

For decades, Timber View Tree Farm owner Daryll Raitt was a professor at the University of Missouri and worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On the edge of Hartsburg, a handful of homes sit on Raitt's serene patch of land that winds through the rolling hills of the countryside.

Raitt planted his first batch of Christmas trees in 1972 to help him build the capital needed to build the subdivision. As the farm blossomed, so did the subdivision.

On one late May day, Raitt sat under the awning of a cabin used to help the farm's customers at Christmas time and pointed to plots of land with young saplings.

His daughter and son-in-law now run the farm, but as she winds down their involvement, each plot will be turned into housing.

"That's worked out real well," Raitt said. "That was the plan when we bought the land."

Still, Raitt said he needed to be patient with the project when he first started the farm. For six years after he planted his first batch of Christmas trees, Raitt and his wife waited until trees grew tall enough to sell.

This barrier to entry prevents many people from starting Christmas tree farms, he said.

"There's a lot of people that start a Christmas tree farm and that never sell a tree," Raitt said. "They start it and see the problems they have, and it goes by the wayside."

Lesson 3: Managing a workforce

Because of the sporadic nature of seasonal businesses, owners said it can sometimes be a challenge to find employees.

During the legislative session, Fairfax cobbled together a small team that included a local horse-trainer, a retired teacher and another woman with a full-time job. Most worked only through the end of May.

In June, Fairfax said she still employed four part-time employees, but only had two working at any given time. Because of the scant business, her daughter-in-law began looking for another job because Fairfax couldn't afford to pay her salary at that point.

Other businesses assemble a workforce of teenagers. Luadzers and Neeley opened Summit Snow because they thought it could give their children a great place to work during their teen years.

Neeley's three children plus a few other local high school students work the window and make snow cones.

During their first two years, Luadzers and Neeley struggled to hone the appropriate amount of time the business should be open.

This summer, the store is open 1-9 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays and 4-9 p.m. Sundays. In its previous two years, Luadzers and Neeley opened the store every day, but they said business wasn't swift enough to support the schedule.

This year, they hope being open more hours on fewer days will concentrate sales on a few days and decrease overhead costs. At the beginning and end of each season, Neeley said, they try to open whenever they can, such as on a handful of weekends in May or even on weekends in December if the weather cooperates.

"You're trying to hit a moving target," Luadzers said. "What you perceive to be one thing may not always be that way, so you have to make quick adjustments to satisfy your clientele."

Others rely on family members, teenagers or both. Each winter, Raitt and about a dozen family members operate hay wagons and help customers cut trees at the cut-your-own Christmas tree farm. Timber View sells natural Christmas trees from Black Friday through Christmas Day each year.

But the most laborious work takes place during the summer.

On a postcard-perfect mid-May day on his farm near Hartburg, Raitt walked between freshly mowed rows in a patch of about 100 young Scots pine trees.

While the weather may not look anything like a Midwestern Christmas, the care and nurturing of each of the young trees is under Raitt's watchful eye.

Grass between each of the 10 rows must be mowed. Crews of high school students trim each tree to give it its classic Christmas-tree shape.

Diseases also must be treated each summer. They are sprayed to treat the brown spot fungus, which can cause needles on pine trees to turn brown. Beetles shipped from California each year eat white spots, known as white scale, that can form on pine needles.

Raitt said people don't realize the amount of work that goes into the farm during the summer.

"You've got to like it because that's what you're going to get out of it. You're never going to get rich growing Christmas trees."

Lesson 4: A labor of love

Seasonal business owners from around the region said they treat their businesses as labors of love.

Inside Summit Snow sit the ingredients to any child's dreams with rainbow of snow cone flavorings like tiger's blood, blue raspberry and vanilla on a counter a few feet behind a service window.

On an adjacent counter sits nutmeg for the shop's signature snow cone creation — the Summit Spritzer. Next to it is a block of ice used to make snow cones. Nearby, bottles of Nerds and other candies sit waiting for a sugar junkie to sprinkle them atop a cool treat.

Neeley loves the look on customers' faces after they taste their first bite. If the venture ends after this summer, both men said they will be glad they invested their time and money in the shop.

"If we don't make a profit eventually, we'll have enjoyed the money we spent," Luadzers said.

Fairfax still makes money from baking cookies and cakes at the Capitol and her home bakery. Despite the slow days at this time of year, she said she still enjoys working in the bakery.

Fairfax also is still spending. She recently bought an espresso machine she sees as another investment in the business.

Her year-long contract with the Office of Administration runs out at the end of the year, and she hopes it will be renewed by the state.

"I'll do what it takes," Fairfax said. "I'm still here."

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