Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For 77 years, Traditions Soda and Sandwich Shop, in one form or another, has been a fixture of Garden City’s downtown area.


Usually a busy place, when the coronavirus hit and businesses had to lock down, Traditions was close to shutting its doors forever.


Walking into Traditions is like stepping back in time to the late 1940s and early 1950s.


Booths line the walls across from the counter, which has swiveling stools. The wall behind the counter still has the original menu and prices displayed floor to ceiling and antiques from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s are everywhere.


At first, Traditions, like many other restaurants, tried social distancing and allowed customers only at every other table. But then the stay-at-home order came, Traditions shut its doors to eat-in dining and focused on delivery and takeout.


"We were available for food," said owner Mike Wade. "We stayed open the whole time."


While this tactic helped, much of Traditions’ income came from in-store customers. Revenue dropped, but Wade kept his staff of eight — including six high schoolers — intact. He kept the high schoolers on their part-time schedule just like he would if they were in school full time. But there just wasn't enough income to keep up with the bills and salaries. It looked like the end of Traditions.


"I had actually gotten a notice from the bank that said it's time to stop writing checks," Wade said.


Just when things looked hopeless, financial help arrived from a couple of unexpected places.


The restaurant qualified for some super-low interest loans from Finney County. And there was more.


Because Wade had kept using his income for payroll, he was also eligible for assistance from the federal Payroll Protection Program. The PPP gave him money for two months of payroll. Although it is a grant, if it is used for payroll, it does not have to be paid back.


"That pretty much saved us because we were pretty much done," Wade said. "These funds will keep us going for a while."


A couple of Wade's buddies even offered him money if he needed it to stay in business.


This gave Wade some breathing room. For now, Traditions will continue offering all its regular 18 menu items of sandwiches, salads, soda fountain treats and homemade pie with ice cream through curbside and takeout service. Head waitress Jan Hagen and the rest of the staff will be kept on.


While the state had allowed cafes and restaurants to reopen with social distancing measures in place, Finney County kept the shutdown in place at least for the time being.


Once those restrictions are lifted, Traditions plans to open for inside service and eventually full operation.


Besides getting Traditions back on its feet and bringing in income for the employees, Wade sees it a sign to the community that things are shifting back toward normal.


"This place is a Garden City icon," Wade said. "People have stood up and made sure we didn't close down."


Traditions has been in the downtown area in one location or another since 1925. Myers Ice Cream bought a building two doors down in 1925 and sold its product through the current location at 121 Grant Ave. that Myers purchased in 1943. It was called Ziggys for a while until a customer called it Traditions and that name stuck.


Wade has owned the building for 10 years. He remembers it looked just the same now as when he was here in his childhood.


As for the future of Traditions, Wade believes the business will come back and continue serving the community.


"We're optimistic," Wade said.