PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — If you look past the bottles and machinery garnishing Black Band Distillery, you’d find the story of its owner Chris Ober.
Ober said he was ready to open the distillery, located in Peoria’s Warehouse District, at the start of 2020, but the arrival of the pandemic, followed by a state shutdown, forced his business to close.
But he said he decided to turn lemons into lemonade by making hand sanitizer.
“The need was great, so we were really happy to be helpful in those times,” Ober said.
However, he said the task wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“It was a huge challenge at the time, we really weren’t anticipating the challenges of procuring all the necessary ingredients and components,” Ober said. “You need everything from the bottles, the caps, the labels to actually make the sanitizer itself.”
Fast-forward a year later, Ober said he’s happy to once again focus on making Whiskey, Bourbon, Vodka, and Gin.
“Now that they’ve freed up the amount of people that can be inside, we’re now at about 50% capacity in-doors, it’s really nice that we’re getting a little bit of attention to help let the public know that we’re open, wanting to serve them and show them the experience that we took several years to create,” Ober said.
But the challenges still exist. He said they’re only partially open and they just missed out on getting funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, because he was opening just before the pandemic and didn’t have the required receipts, so he’s asking the community to step in.
“It’s been very challenging, we have made it so far,” Ober said. “But we definitely would appreciate the support of Central Illinois and Peoria to help us bring some income in to help us to continue operations, continue distilling, and able to expand here and serve more people in the future.”
Ober’s story caught the attention of Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Il) who toured the facility Friday afternoon. She said she wanted to see the stories that tie in with the pandemic and small business owners.
“Just to listen to what it takes to get through something like this, 20-hour workdays, taking something that’s supposed to be a distillery and turning that into a hand sanitizer operation to be able to make it through,” Bustos said. “It takes ingenuity, it takes tremendous work ethic, it takes the support of the community and that’s the story that we heard here today.”
She said it’s part of her mission to help local businesses succeed and is calling on the community to shop local.
“My goal as a member of Congress is to make sure I understand these stories and then when I go out to Washington, understand what we need to do to be of help,” Bustos said. “My message to the community more than anything is to support our local businesses.”