“I’m not gonna make it!” Julie Wilson thought to herself as she flew off her motorcycle and headed toward a guardrail. She had been heading back home from Tahoe, riding motorcycles with her husband Kim, when she lost control of her bike around Mt. Rose two years ago in 2013.
Wilson doesn’t remember all the details, but when she awoke, she was lying on the pavement with a severed leg, a ripped liver, broken ribs, torn arms, broken hand, and torn knee. Her helmet protected her some, but her face was smashed with her eye socket and sinuses crushed.
An off-duty nurse, a psychologist, and a police officer stood nearby with her husband—all trying to discern how bad off she was. With her own two hands, she took off her helmet, prompting her husband to say, “Well, I think her head is okay!” At that moment, Wilson went into shock. The psychiatrist dropped a white pill into her mouth, and off she went in an ambulance.
“Someone was looking over my shoulder,” Wilson recalls. She knew it was only a guardrail that had saved her from flying into oblivion off the cliffs around Mt. Rose. What she didn’t realize was more than a post or piece of metal was prepared to preserve her sign business and help her get back to life as usual again.
In 1999, Wilson opened Julie’s Sign Shoppe in Reno, Nevada along with her business partner, Christine Harkness. Over time, Wilson’s husband, Kim, joined them, as well as her three children: Travis Landes, Maryann Chirstman, and Janell Brown. Christine’s son Trevor also joined the team. “It is very much a family business,” Wilson says.
Even though Wilson is part owner with Harkness, with the business being called Julie’s Sign Shoppe, a lot weighs on her. “I get blamed for everything that goes wrong and accolades for everything that goes right,” she says. Harkness holds a construction permit and as Wilson says, “The business would not be where it’s at today without her.” Wilson doesn’t make each individual sign, but she manages the bigger accounts and runs the business. “I care about my customer base. A lot of people depend on me, and I take that seriously,” Wilson says.
Julie’s Sign Shoppe was going well at that time two years ago, but there were challenges. “There aren’t a lot of people who are skilled in making signs, so we all put in a lot of hours.” Wearing several hats, Julie had become Mom, boss, payroll and disciplinarian. She and her family would put in 14-hour stressful days—all focused on getting jobs done for their clients. “We fought a lot,” she says admittedly. “But the accident changed the way we work together.”
Wilson underwent several surgeries. “By the time they got to my face, I was tired of the surgeries. I just wanted it to be done,” she recalls. “I told the doctor he needed to wait.” Though he had planned an outing at the later time she requested, he obliged. “I spent one week in intensive care, one week in the hospital, and then six weeks at home, where my husband took care of me.” Wilson says.
Her struggle was not just a physical one, but a mental one as well. “Going from 12-14 hours a day and making decisions, to being an invalid and needing someone to take you to the bathroom is very difficult mentally,” she says. She wanted desperately to be there for her business and clients, but now she would have to focus on her own physical recovery.
Meanwhile, at Julies’ Sign Shoppe, the rest of the family along with Harkness had to pick up the slack. “Everyone had to chip in and do my job,” she remembers. A humbling moment for all of them, her kids and business partner had to add the extra burden of Julie’s accounts on top of their own jobs. They pushed through to meet deadlines and keep business running as usual. Wilson began to see that through a crisis, she could rely on her family.
With Julie’s Sign Shoppe serving a customer base that includes international businesses, many of her clients did not know she had the accident. They did not make an announcement and kept working. “A lot of customers…understood,” pausing as the emotions come back, through tears, Wilson continues, “and they waited.”
Gradually, Wilson started going back to work, increasing her hours. Now, two years after the accident, Wilson is back to her 12 to 14-hour days. Some of her children have gone on to work elsewhere, but everyone at the business continues to help one another.
“We are working side by side and are more tolerant of each other,” she says. “We strive to have a good relationship with our family, employees and customers.” While the business is taking on new projects and growing into a new building, Wilson likes to keep things in perspective after the accident. “It’s just a sign; tomorrow is another day.”
Written by Amanda Lynn Hinson