Local businesses, facing long closures, get creative
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you may not have realized just how easy it was to get a haircut or take a yoga class. That changed, as soon as Oregon's "Stay Home, Save Lives" orders went into effect in March. Shops and providers found themselves unable to offer their usual in-person services. That's when many of Inner Southeast Portland's small business owners got creative – devising clever ways to serve their customers online, until they could reopen.
To give one example, Sellwood's Teal Salon had to close temporarily, unable to offer close-proximity hair care services like cuts and colors during the lockdown. Co-owners DeAnnalyn Teal and her daughter Tuesday Teal began brainstorming, and quickly realized they could still offer one of their core services: Making customers feel good.They'd already started collaborating with a small local company that produces custom hair and body care products, such as shampoo, conditioner, lotions, and cosmetics. The Teals asked them to speed up their production process, and soon they had a small supply of their own unique signature products to sell. The resulting "Teal Salon Try Me Kit" featured seven unique products available only from Teal Salon, all made with natural and local ingredients. The containers are reusable, and can be refilled at the salon once customers are allowed to return. The Teals described the packaging as "beauty growlers" – referencing the refillable jugs that breweries use to sell their beer.
An e-mail went out to salon clients at the end of March, announcing the new line of beauty products for sale online, with free delivery in Portland and Milwaukie. The kits sold out the first day, and have continued to sell steadily. They're also available on the website for Tuesday's mask-making and embroidery business – www.stitchedinthedark.com/teal-salon-delivery"Our clients, if they can't get to us, want to support us," Tuesday told THE BEE. "If we can't actually physically do their hair, they still want us to be in business, for whenever we can reopen. So it's giving them the ability to help us get past this time."
Many clients have purchased the kits more than once, and the Teals reported brisk sales over Mother's Day weekend. Tuesday Teal summed up what she has realized and put into practice during the pandemic: "Evolving is mandatory. Nobody says that you are not allowed to make money, right? You just find ways that can work for your business and your customers. Your customers want to support you."
That's what one business did. Here's another such story, this time from Westmoreland… When you own a business that brings multiple people together for artistic expression with a paintbrush in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, you'll get hit hard by a ban on both of your services – group gatherings and indoor alcohol service. Paul Schildan has run the Vine Gogh Artist Bar and Studio with his wife since 2011. Prior to the pandemic, their storefront next to the Moreland Theater in Westmoreland offered sip-and-paint classes six days a week, and a children's painting class on the weekend. They closed their doors to follow Governor Brown's orders in March – but that shutdown just got them excited to ramp up their online efforts to put a paintbrush and canvas in front of folks who felt isolated, and possibly bored, during the closure.
"What we did is we took a handful of our most popular paintings and made them available for people to order online," Schildan said. Monthly subscriptions were already available online – www.goghbox.com – and the Schildans added individual painting kits to the delivery menu. Orders include the necessary brushes, paints, and a canvas, or other medium. Once supplies are in hand, buyers – or anyone! – can view Vine Gogh's painting tutorials for free on YouTube.
Schildan reported that demand has been brisk. Vine Gogh also offered a live online streaming event on May 4 to teach people how to paint "Chewbacca" from Star Wars. That popular painting kit, and its instructional video, remain available online.
One surprising experience for Schildan was hearing from a family in Michigan, who'd found one of Vine Gogh's YouTube tutorials, and sent photos of the finished paintings they'd created together while watching the lesson. Another woman said she followed online instructions using the paints that she had on hand, but she lacked a canvas – so she painted on a rock.Schildan said that despite the difficulties of conducting business during a pandemic, he's been encouraged by his community's response to the crisis. "Many of the businesses put signs up that said, 'Spread Love, Not Germs', and I thought that was so cool," he smiled. "It really speaks volumes about the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood, and the way they care about each other. We're lucky to be part of that."
And a third example of online creativity when a business' doors are closed would be "Dance With Joy Studios" in Sellwood, which shifted its person-to-person model to online offerings during the pandemic. The business taught various forms of dance, yoga, fitness, and wellness – but now these classes are conducted online via "ZOOM". Participants sign up through the studios' own website – www.dancewithjoystudios.com/schedule
Owner Rachel Lidskog-Lim said her business used to offer more than 100 classes per week prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Enrollment dropped about 75% after the Governor's stay-at-home order, and her roster of contracted instructors dipped from 30 to 15. Despite that hit, their fitness classes – such as Nia and Zumba – have actually seen higher enrollment than ever, recently. Lidskog-Lim believes that's because people have more time to practice self-care, and they need it more than ever also, due to heightened stress levels.
Despite that uptick, it's been tough, as you might imagine, to sustain partner dance classes. "It's just not the same," Lidskog-Lim explained. "You don't feel the tactile touch, and the connection that we're hungry for; it's not there anymore." She's helping her contracted instructors adapt the way they teach these classes so students can continue learning the basics of a dance style, even if they don't have a partner to dance with at home. Sometimes this means working more on personal technique and individual style, than on partnering skills.
One aspect of this new online adventure has pleasantly surprised Lidskog-Lim: "People have been taking our classes from Paris, from Florida, from New York! I love that people join in from all over the world!"
Her goal is to continue to serve the community. She's considering offering new workshops focusing on empowerment and emotional health. We will open as soon as we can, and we'll be very safety oriented, and will find ways to make it fun," Liskog-Lim said, noting her heightened concern about keeping customers and the wider community safe, because she has already lost several friends to COVID-19.
"Nobody is looking forward to dancing at a distance, but what we will enjoy is wonderful music, and community, and laughter together," she reflected. "Even if we're six feet apart."
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