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Commerce is alive and well in Pratt

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Qingzhen Zhen unwraps packing boxes that she and husband Bright Ibeawuchi will fill with orders for electronic and robotic parts as they fill orders from around the world at their store location in the old J.C. Penny’s building downtown Pratt.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, and in spite of gloom-and-doom economic predictions, local entreprenuers and longtime owners are creating some hustle and bustle in the business community of Pratt.

“There was a lot of money lost because of the coronavirus, but we didn’t lose a single business, that we know of, in the past few months,” said Pratt Area  Economic Corporation Director Mark Morgan. “In fact we have had more good stuff happen business-wise this year than in the past two years here in Pratt.”

With a steadily increasing inventory, Bright Ibeauwuchi and Qingzhen Zhen have opened Direct Voltage, an online consumer hobby store located in the old J.C. Penny’s store in the 300 block of S. Main.

“We really don’t need all of this room, about half of the store is what we can handle in filling orders,” Zhen said. “We might consider renting the other half of the store out at some point.”

Currently shelves full of electronics, computer and robotic parts like circuit boards and lasar components fill assorted boxes on row after row of shelves. Ibeauwuchi and Zhen are kept busy buying parts to fill orders that are placed from customers around the world. Most of their business comes in and out via FedEx or UPS trucks. There is no in-store foot traffic at this time.

Ibeauwuchi, who grew up in Pratt, said he had run a similar business elsewhere, but when the opportunity came up to create a space for a larger inventory in his hometown, he moved his wife and family back to Pratt.

“I’ve lived in L.A., Pasadena, Houston, big cities, but we wanted to raise our boys here in this small town,” Ibeauwuchi said. “There is no place better for a family.”

Ibeauwuchi and Zhen have two boys, Zed and Xing, who are 8 and 6, and attend Southwest Middle School.

“We haven’t had too many worries about the coronavirus,” Ibeauwuchi said. “It really doesn’t have an effect on our online business. We are keeping very busy.”

Also keeping busy is long-time Pratt businessman Dale Withers who is in the process of creating a new oil change, tire repair shop for large trucks.

“Dale always has the good of the community at heart,” Morgan said. “He is putting this business together north of Casey’s on land he already owns.”

Morgan also said that Withers was putting together an ammunition loading and reloading business also on the northeast side of town but it was to early for him to comment more on that enterprise.

“We actually have several new businesses either coming in or laying groundwork in planning but it is too early to definitively comment on several of those,” Morgan said.

However, at an August 12 Pratt County Commission meeting, commissioner Glenna Borho said HeatherMorgan of Pratt County Economic Development updated the commissioners on new businesses coming in the area, including Braum’s which has purchased land east of Dollar Tree, and Scooter’s a coffee-franchise which plans to purchase the old KFC lot at First and Main streets and put in a drive-through coffee kiosk.

Borho said there was also discussion at that county meeting about a possible housing development with Kansas Work Force and a food production company looking at Pratt County for establishment.

“We have a special open house on Thursday, September 24 for Grand Plains, skilled nursing by Americare,” Mark Morgan said. “This one has taken a bit to get in place. There were some COVID-related delays, but all is in order now and we are happy to welcome this establishment to Pratt.”