Once you've committed to starting a small business, all kinds of things can throw a wrench in the works before opening day, as Laura Kuenzli of Rivet Gallery knows all too well.

Once you've committed to starting a small business, all kinds of things can throw a wrench in the works before opening day, as Laura Kuenzli of Rivet Gallery knows all too well.

When she moved back to Columbus in 2005 after a stint living in Florida, Kuenzli decided to explore her passion for pop surrealist art and designer vinyl toys with a pop-up show of custom toys in 2006. The response was so positive Kuenzli started thinking about opening a gallery space dedicated to this kind of work.

"In 2007, I wasn't really planning to grab a place, but [my former partner and I] happened to be driving around, saw a space open and decided to call on it, so we jumped into it a little sooner than anticipated," she said.

The same week that Kuenzli signed the lease, she was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly her plans to launch the business had to be reconciled with a schedule of treatments and the related physical toll. It delayed the process, but with some help, she was able to open Rivet in June 2007. She also beat the cancer and has been in remission ever since.

"I try not to think about it, but if I hadn't grabbed a space then, I don't know if Rivet would even exist today," she said. "I don't know, going through what I did, if I'd still have chosen to venture on this path."

After nearly nine years in business, Kuenzli has her share of unglamorous and unusual experiences. As a sole proprietor with no other employees, she cleans the gallery, maintains the website, handles all online sales and shipping, and fields all requests for information, including the occasional letter from prison.

"Nothing sordid," she explained. "I assume they've seen our show ads in national art publications. They're always reaching out about artwork. They've even sent pictures they've drawn and asked if we could send postcards back. You just aren't expecting to get random inmate mail."

Kuenzli considers herself fortunate to have a small network of reliable friends who can cover her in case of illness, or when she's running a vendor booth at a festival or checking out a toy convention.

She doesn't have quite so much confidence in being able to maintain her current location, however, given the increased developer interest and rising rents around the Short North.

"That kind of opens your eyes to your future," Kuenzli said. "If things change, how are you going to adapt? And that's beyond the stress of the everyday responsibilities of keeping the business afloat."

For now, she's staying focused on the strong relationships she's developed with artists around the country through the gallery, and the fact that without a space like Rivet, many of them wouldn't show anywhere near Central Ohio.

"I have people say to me all the time, this must be such a fun job and I imagine you have no stress," she noted. "I do try to keep in mind that it's a job but also a passion, and I try not to lose that with the day to day. At times I've questioned it, but as long as I still feel passionate about what I'm trying to create for the community, I see myself continuing it."