"The writing was on the wall... I let him go," recalls the Windy City Rehab designer of the end of her professional partnership

By Emily Strohm and Mackenzie Schmidt
September 23, 2020 12:30 PM
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Alison Victoria is opening up about her split from her business partner and HGTV co-star — and how she's coming back from a trying year better than ever.

“I would wake up every day and just want to keep the blinds closed and the covers over my head,” the Windy City Rehab designer, 39, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue of the darkest time for her in 2019, a year in which her house-flipping business was hit with stop-work orders, threatened license suspensions and lawsuits from former clients. “I could feel myself slipping. But I’ve come too far. I’ve climbed this hill, and I’m not going to die on it. I’ve got to keep on going.”

Victoria first partnered with Donovan Eckhardt, a developer and general contractor, on her first HGTV show Kitchen Crashers. They worked well together and soon entered into an off-screen venture flipping luxury homes together in her native Chicago.

Credit: HGTV

She had the design chops, but says, "what he brought to the table was the experience of securing the investors, doing all of the budgets and the bank draws and really controlling all finances.”

They landed a hit show of their own that premiered in January 2019, but after filming wrapped on the first season, financial problems started creeping in.

Credit: HGTV

“All of a sudden, you start closing on these houses and you start wondering, ‘Where’s the profit? Why am I not making any money?’ And then you start uncovering more and more,” she says. “That’s when I realized that I had no idea what was going on.”

Still, they filmed a second season together and ended up capturing the fall out as the relationship soured on camera. In the September 15 premiere alone, the business partners fight over a failed attempt to get a loan and Victoria finds out that the majority of the renovation budget for a stalled project has already been paid out to Eckhardt's company without her knowledge.

Eventually, she had to cut ties. “The writing was on the wall. It was like, ‘I need you to come over to my home,’ and then I let him go,” she says. “I said, ‘I want you off of all of the loans, and obviously this partnership is over.’ ”

WATCH THIS: See the Trailer for Windy City Rehab Season 2

But actually extracting her business from his entact has been a challenge. “There are so many things that are still connected,” she says. “I’ve taken the last year to remove him from a majority of them, but that takes so much time. People just think, ‘Oh, it’s easy. You just get rid of a partner.’ But I have friends that have gone through divorces that aren’t this bad. And those divorces were really bad.” (Eckhardt did not reply to PEOPLE's request for comment.)

For the past year and a half Victoria has spent her time and money trying to clear her name.

“Every day I’m chipping away at it,” she says. “I’m making the uncomfortable phone calls to the bank and the investors. It’s still a challenge, but I have peace knowing that I tried my hardest and did the right thing.”

She credits her longtime boyfriend, Michael Marks, and family for helping her stay positive. “I focus on what can I do, not what I can’t do, because when you do that, you’re going to go down a very dark hole and you can’t dig yourself out,” she says. “I haven’t allowed myself to go there. I’ve peeked, and I’m like, ‘That’s not for you. You didn’t come this far to fall down. You didn’t come this far to give up.’ ”

Windy City Rehab airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on HGTV.