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CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

Naomi and Shane Wells sit in the showroom of their new business, Vinyl Addictionz, and discuss the process of getting their business up and running after purchasing an old muffler shop on South Federal Avenue and moving their operation from the basement of their home in Mason City.

New design shop owners grateful for community support

MASON CITY | Shane and Naomi Wells started running their business, Vinyl Addictionz, out of an old muffler shop on South Federal Avenue, when their basement at home started to become overcrowded.

They put their unique designs on everything from T-shirts to stickers to hats and other apparel. Many long days have been put into the building the past few weeks, from remodeling the entire interior of the front showroom and setting up a work station where cars used to be repaired.

Despite their hard work, they also understand that without the community's support—all 33 reviews on their Facebook page are five stars out of five—running their business would be impossible.

"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be where we are, point, blank, period," Shane said. "It's my customers that have made this happen."

For the past few months, he and his wife Naomi have been moving all the presses, shirts and other materials from his basement to the old Muffler Center at 1923 South Federal Ave. in Mason City.

Naomi worked for about 20 years at Heritage Care and Rehabilitation Center in Mason City before she decided to step down and work on Vinyl Addictionz full-time. The shift between jobs has been challenging, she added.

"I was so organized at my job before," Naomi said. "I was on it. And then, for the last month, my world's been turned upside down, doing the remodeling and everything ... and now I need to bill companies ... it's driving me crazy."

Still, their success has not only been with individuals in North Iowa, but also other local businesses. They're done all of the design work for Stampede's Sports Bar and Grill, a new bar that opened up downtown. They've also worked with Cabin Coffee, Harbor Freight and other businesses.

With all their success, both Shane and Naomi said it comes at a cost: finding balance in their life has been difficult, especially as they continue to raise three kids.

But Shane remains optimistic they'll reach that balance eventually, and that the business will continue to grow.

"All this hard work that we put in, even if we don't know what we're doing and we're just over here chipping away at the wall, and we don't know if there's gold in it or not ... it'll pay off," Shane said.

Along with their design work, they also offer car window tinting every Tuesday, courtesy of Brandy Booton, based in Ottumwa.

Shane said Booton has been a great help in getting the store ready to open. Both he and Naomi estimated start-up costs to be around $8,000-10,000 so far.

"It's a genuine love there," Shane said about Booton. "I feel like he's my brother, that he would do anything for me."

As the Wells' business has grown, they've both realized how important it is to be individualistic from their work. And they've both said Vinyl Addictionz' recent success has helped them through their past addictions to drugs and alcohol. 

One of the company's purposes is to allow people to express themselves more often, Shane added.

"I think that's one of the foundation stones of this," he said. "It's to get people to be more unique, more themselves."

There's still a lot of work to be done—both want to decorate the interior entrance and room more. Orders for shirts, decals and other products will continue to come in. Finalizing the building's workspaces is ongoing.

But for now, Shane and Naomi are both content with staying open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekdays, and usually working even later, filling sticker orders and whatever challenges the business throws their way.

They're still deciding on when to hold a grand opening, but until then, they'll churn out products with unique designs for their customers.

"My favorite part is seeing the customer's face," Naomi said about the business. "When you hand them that shirt and they're so excited because you made that come to life, I love that. I don't care how late I have to stay up."

Freed detainees head home for big welcome

WASHINGTON — Freed after more than a year in prison, three Americans flew homeward from North Korea late Wednesday toward a big middle-of-the-night celebration featuring President Donald Trump — the latest sign of improving relations between longtime adversaries in the buildup to a historic summit between Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

Trump promised "quite a scene" at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington for the detainees, who were released as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea on Wednesday to finalize plans for the summit. Singapore was the likely site, late this month or in early June, for Trump's most ambitious foreign policy effort yet.

Shortly after they touched down on American soil in Alaska — for a refueling stop Wednesday afternoon— the State Department released a statement from the freed men.

"We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home," they said. "We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world."

The men had boarded Pompeo's plane out of North Korea without assistance and then transferred in Japan to a separate aircraft with more extensive medical facilities. They are expected to arrive at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington early this morning.

Trump made a point of publicly thanking North Korea's leader for the prisoners' release — "I appreciate Kim Jong Un doing this" — and hailed it as a sign of cooling tensions and growing opportunity on the Korean peninsula. Kim decided to grant amnesty to the three Americans at the "official suggestion" of the U.S. president, said North Korea's official news agency, KCNA.

North Korea had accused Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, all Korean-Americans, of anti-state activities. Their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation's nuclear weapons.

Trump entered office as an emboldened North Korea developed new generations of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of hitting the continental U.S. Those advances were the subject of President Barack Obama's starkest warning shortly before Trump took office, and this is a crisis he's convinced his negotiating skills can resolve.

Crediting himself for recent progress, Trump has pointed to Kim's willingness to come to the negotiating table as validating U.S. moves to tighten sanctions — branded "maximum pressure" by the president. The wee-hours ceremony today was to be an early celebration for an issue that has already put the prospect of a Nobel Peace Prize on Trump's mind.

"Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it," he said Wednesday when asked if the award was deserved.

The release capped a dramatic day of diplomacy in Pyongyang. After Pompeo's 90-minute meeting with Kim Jong Un, he gave reporters a fingers-crossed sign when asked about the prisoners as he returned to his hotel. It was only after a North Korean emissary arrived a bit later to inform him that the release was confirmed.

The three had been held for periods ranging from one and two years. They were the latest in a series of Americans who have been detained by North Korea in recent years for seemingly small offenses and typically freed when senior U.S. officials or statesmen personally visited to bail them out.

The last American to be released before this, college student Otto Warmbier, died in June 2017, days after he was repatriated to the U.S. with severe brain damage.

Warmbier was arrested by North Korean authorities in January 2016, accused of stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing the government of torturing and killing their son.

"We are happy for the hostages and their families," the Warmbiers said in a statement Wednesday. "We miss Otto."

Of the newly released detainees, Kim Dong Chul, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, had been held the longest. The former Virginia resident was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage. He reportedly ran a trade and hotel service company in Rason, a special economic zone on North Korea's border with Russia.

The other two detainees hadn't been tried.

Kim Hak Song worked in agricultural development at an experimental farm run by the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, or PUST. The university is the only privately funded college in North Korea and was founded in 2010 with donations from Christian groups. He was detained last May for alleged anti-state activities.

Tony Kim, who also uses the name Kim Sang-duk, was detained in April 2017 at the Pyongyang airport. He taught accounting at PUST. He was accused of committing unspecified criminal acts intended to overthrow the government.

The family of Tony Kim thanked all those who worked for his return and also credited Trump for engaging directly with North Korea. "Mostly we thank God for Tony's safe return," the family said in a statement.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer celebrated the detainees' return but warned that "we'll see many more hostages" if the administration provides an incentive for imprisoning Americans.

"We are happy they've returned, but North Korea shouldn't gain by taking Americans and then releasing them," he said.

During his visit, Pompeo discussed the agenda for a potential Trump-Kim Jong Un summit. Pompeo said the summit is scheduled to last one day but could be extended by a day depending on how talks progress.

Gov. Reynolds defends Iowa utilities, energy efficiency changes

JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds defended changes in Iowa utility regulations she signed into law last week as a compromise that will save ratepayers’ money while maintaining a “robust” energy efficiency program.

The law will make changes in Iowa’s energy efficiency programs and reshape the Iowa Utility Board’s regulatory role — moves that sponsors say will save consumers money and that critics warn will kill jobs and gut programs that make Iowa a green energy leader.

“It’s a balance,” Reynolds said at her weekly news conference Tuesday when asked how she squares the changes with her Iowa Energy Plan that identifies energy efficiency and conservation as one of its pillars.

“You know very well legislation is about compromise,” Reynolds said. “You had legislators who felt differently on some of these issues. So what you do … is you talk about the areas that are important. They talk about the areas that are important to them. It’s about reaching a compromise.”

The compromise will provide “hundreds of millions of dollars in reductions to ratepayers and balances that with a very robust energy efficiency program,” Reynolds said.

The law will encourage the extension of natural gas into underserved rural areas to support economic development efforts — another goal of the energy plan, the governor said. It was important to lawmakers, she added, to improve transparency so ratepayers know how much of their bill was for energy efficiency programs.

Utilities previously were prohibited from disclosing mandated energy efficiency charges.

“It does all of the above,” said Reynolds, who added that the energy plan recommendations were never intended to be mandates on Iowans and utilities.

However, the Iowa Environmental Council said that in addition to contradicting the Iowa Energy Plan, Senate File 2311 was a “leap backward” that will gut energy efficiency programs and allow municipal utilities to discriminate against solar energy customers.

Without effective energy efficiency programs, “the end result of SF 2311 will be that utilities will sell more power and Iowans will pay more out of their paycheck for energy,” the council said. “Utilities are the only winner here today — businesses and citizens across Iowa will pay the price of this action.”

In a statement Tuesday, MidAmerican Energy agreed with the governor that SF 2311 “ensures MidAmerican Energy can continue to offer a robust set of energy efficiency programs in Iowa at a reasonable cost.”

MidAmerican said customers paid an average of more than 7 percent of their bills toward energy efficiency programs, the highest in the nation. That will be capped at 2 percent for electricity and 1.5 percent for natural gas utilities, “bringing the cost of energy efficiency programming in line with the rest of the country,” MidAmerican said.

The caps implemented through the legislation are expected to save MidAmerican Energy’s customers $80 million to $90 million per year, which equates to $80 per year for the average residential gas and electric customer, $195 for the average commercial customer and $9,000 for the average MidAmerican industrial customer.

The new law allows customers to “opt out” of energy efficiency programs and require utilities to show on customers’ monthly bills how much they are paying to help finance rebates and other incentives for consumer purchases of energy-efficient appliances and furnaces or for insulating homes.

The state will monitor energy efficiency programs to see of anything needs to change in the future, Reynolds said.