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Imagine Valedictorian: COVID-19 has 'unified' class of 2020

COOLIDGE — Autumn Montgomery says her mother describes her as the “triple crown” of the family.

The youngest of three, Montgomery has always known she wanted to be valedictorian, as both her older brother and sister earned the honor while attending Coolidge High School.

“I definitely have a lot of family competition there because I’m the youngest,” Montgomery said. “And I definitely couldn’t let them get the winning hand. So as my mom (says) I am the ‘triple crown’ of the family since I’m the last one.”

Seeing her siblings graduate as valedictorian motivated her, even as a child in elementary school, to do the same. It’s a dream that years later she has managed to accomplish, graduating at the top of her class at Imagine Prep Coolidge.

In addition to her studies at Imagine, Montgomery is enrolled in the Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology’s medical assisting program. Her interest in the medical field is one that was sparked at an early age. But she became committed to a career in the field at 13, after her father suffered a heart attack and underwent a triple bypass surgery.

She plans to attend the University of Arizona’s pre-medical program in the fall. Her end goal is to become an anesthesiologist.

Beyond maintaining a strong GPA, Montgomery has actively participated in a number of extra curricular activities throughout her high school career. They included serving as vice president and president of Imagine’s National Honor Society chapter and captain of the varsity softball team. She also played first violin for the Central Arizona Symphony for a brief period.

But due to the ongoing global pandemic, which led to the closure of schools around the country beginning in March, many high school experiences and potential achievements have been cut short for Montgomery and her fellow classmates.

From experiences like prom or the senior class prank to the final graduation ceremony, the Class of 2020 has lost out on several rites of passage.

But there are life lessons that this year’s graduating class has gleaned from the current circumstance, Montgomery said.

However unfortunate, the pandemic’s impact on the senior class may just enable this year’s graduates to emerge stronger and uniquely connected.

“The only thing that I can really say about this whole experience is that it has unified our whole class — throughout the country — in a way that none of the other classes have been able to (achieve),” Montgomery said. “We’re all in the same misfortune, and we all kind of understand what everyone else is going through.”

If anything, Montgomery said that the pandemic has taught the graduating class an important life lesson early on — to “reconcile” and roll with the punches instead allowing unforeseen circumstances to limit their success.

“I don’t think that COVID has changed the plans of any of the seniors in the country,” she said. “We all now have this life experience on how to reroute our plans and how to make (them) happen regardless of what happens — even if there’s a huge curve ball thrown in there.”

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Shaw's Interiors celebrates 65 years of business in Coolidge

COOLIDGE — There are homes and businesses in and around Coolidge that Mark Shaw has updated not once, not twice, but three times over the past several decades.

Now the head of Shaw’s Interiors, Shaw has been a part of the family business that was started by his father and mother, Curtis and Ruthie, and his uncle Taylor and aunt Ruth, as far back as he can remember.

Shaw’s Interiors officially opened in 1955 — offering upholstery services to Coolidge and surrounding communities.

As the story was told by his father, Curtis, a reporter from the Coolidge Examiner visited the Coolidge Avenue shop shortly after it opened to write a story, Shaw said.

“Dad said he wished he’d remembered her (the reporter’s) name because the gal finished the interview and, after she finished the interview and (started) walking away, she said ‘Ah, most small businesses never make it,’” he said. “The odds of a small business making it were pretty much against them.”

But over six decades later, Shaw’s Interiors is still going strong.

Originally from Oklahoma, the Shaws moved to Coolidge in 1937. With an uncle who practiced upholstery in Oklahoma, Curtis and Taylor decided to enroll in a California school to learn the craft with the aim of opening up their own shop in Pinal County.

While studying, the pair spent their days in class learning the craft and their evenings picking up odd jobs like painting houses to make an income to support their budding families.

Not long after completing school, they returned to Arizona aiming to start their own business in either Casa Grande or Coolidge.

“They had to decide between Casa Grande and Coolidge which would be the better city to build in,” Shaw said. “Coolidge was the faster growing and larger city at that time, so they built in Coolidge.”

Upon returning to Coolidge, the two brothers constructed their own building to house their upholstery businesses. Today, that building — at 553 W. Coolidge Ave. — is still home to Shaw’s Interiors.

When it first opened its doors, Shaw’s provided upholstery services, primarily on vehicles. After working long hours and driving out to various locations around and beyond Pinal County, the Shaw brothers were able to expand their services to provide upholstery for furniture and flooring.

Though he’s not entirely certain how his father and uncle managed to attract customers in the shop’s early stages, Shaw said the two had a saying that still remains a motto for the family business more than 65 years later.

“That’s what they always told us: ‘Do it right the first time and customers will keep coming back,’” he said.

Although the business may have started as a partnership between Curtis and Taylor, it eventually became a family affair. Shaw recalls spending time with his parents at the store when he was as young as 8 years old. Throughout high school, he could usually be found working at the shop along with his brothers and cousins if he wasn’t in school or playing sports.

“The only time we got to spend with my dad (was) when we’d come down here to work with him, tearing down upholstery and things like that,” he said.

Shaw recalls helping his father on projects at a number of well-known locations around Coolidge and Pinal County, such as Mary C. O'Brien School at Eleven Mile Corner. Years down the road, Shaw’s own son would go out to re-lay tile — making him the third generation in the family to install flooring at the school.

Curtis and Taylor also installed the original flooring at iconic local businesses such as Tag’s Cafe. The original floors inside the building were installed in 1957 or 1958, Shaw estimates. The flooring was redone by Shaw and his bothers nearly 30 years later.

Other site that Shaw’s has installed flooring for over the years include Shope’s, Garrett Motors, Hohokam and San Carlos irrigation districts and even the local post office.

But there is one building in particular that in his lifetime Shaw has installed flooring for three different times over the decades. Known as the first fire house in Coolidge, the building at 320 W. Central Ave. now houses the Disabled American Veterans of Pinal County Chapter 363.

Not long after his father died in 2018, Shaw officially took over the family business. But some things have changed since his father and uncle started the company all those years ago.

Although Shaw’s still specializes in upholstery, the service does not play as big a role as it once did.

Today, flooring is bigger than it once was. When Curtis and Taylor started the company, about half of the work they did was comprised of upholstery and the other half flooring.

Over the years, however, flooring became more popular while re-upholstery became less so, Shaw said. Much of the reason behind the dip in upholstery’s popularity likely has to do with the price point.

“The cost of furniture has come way down,” he said. “It’s easier to go out and buy new than re-upholster it. The upholstery business has slowed down quite a bit.” He noted that the case is a little bit different for top-of-the-line furniture, where upholstery proves to be less expensive than purchasing brand new items.

At one point, there were three upholsterers working out of Shaw’s Interiors. By comparison, today the company only has one full-time upholsterer.

In addition, today work on commercial properties is also a key ingredient in the company’s continual success. About 50% of the jobs Shaw’s thrives on are now at commercial sites — with the company installing flooring at schools, office complexes and even grocery stores.

Shaw noted that with major competitors on the market, what has partially helped — and continues to help — Shaw’s Interiors survive is the quality of the job they do.

“It’s hard for us to be competitive with the big warehouses, but we try to do custom work,” he said. “We’re not just the run-of-the-mill. Hopefully, we do custom work and make something that by the time we’re done is something (customers) are proud of.”

Several Coolidge restaurants reopen dine-in services this week

COOLIDGE — More than a month after closing its doors and laying off employees, Tag’s Cafe was one of several restaurants in Arizona to reopen on Monday as restrictions on dine-in service were relaxed.

As part of the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Doug Ducey in March, restaurants around the state were mandated to reduce their service to take-out and delivery only as part of a national effort to curb the spread of the Coronavirus.

While some restaurants did their best to survive off to-go orders, others buckled under the restrictions and were forced to close their doors.

In the case of Tag’s, the order forced co-owners Richard Schaar and Janice Calvert to close on March 20. On Monday, they officially reopened with reduced business hours and staff.

Calvert reported that attendance was “steady” for first day of the restaurant’s reopening and that customers adopted social distancing practices while dining in.

The Cafe will operated on reduced hours and staff in the initial phases, she said. Currently, Tag’s is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Sunday. But Calvert said the hours will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Another business that reopened after weeks of closure was the Chinese cuisine restaurant, Dragon City.

According to the Coolidge Chamber of Commerce, two other Coolidge restaurants, Jalapeños 2 and Casa Palomino, reopened their dinning rooms on Monday.

Beginning Wednesday, KFC/Taco Bell and Pita Patio Grill will reopen their dining rooms.

Pita Patio owner Nick Tsalikis said that though the restaurant will be reopening the dine-in areas, customers may notice some changes, including tables spaced out to encourage social distancing.

Nikola Motor Company to repay paycheck protection assistance

PHOENIX — Nikola Motor Company has announced that it will repay the funding it received through the Paycheck Protection Program, declaring that it is now confident of the timeline of its merger with VectoIQ.

The hydrogen electric and electric vehicle manufacturer announced on social media that its merger with the shell corporation, which will take Nikola public, is on track.

The company revealed that it had received the second round of comments on the pending merger and was “confident” of when the deal would go into effect. As a result, Nikola Motor said it plans to repay the funding it received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Last month, Nikola received $4.1 million in PPP funding from JPMorgan Chase. The move sparked some public pushback. The company’s merger with VectoIQ raised its valuation to $3 billion and, when complete, will provide the company with $500 million in capital infusions from investors. At the time, Nikola Motor told CNBC that as a “pre-revenue” company the PPP funding would help retain its 300 employees while finalizing the merger.

Nikola Motor plans to build a 1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Coolidge. In an email, company officials said that Nikola is still on schedule to break ground later this year on the Coolidge facility.