Face-to-face contact is vital for local businesses, but during the coronavirus pandemic, business models are changing.
Some businesses have been shuttered altogether by order of Gov. Kate Brown, who has been focused since late winter on slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the viral illness COVID-19. Others operate under heavy restrictions, which are only now starting to be relaxed somewhat throughout most of Oregon.
Mosaic Arts Loft in Sherwood is one business that is adapting to the new normal.
Owner and founder Ann Brucker has seen her business model turned upside down.
"I opened the business in 2006," Brucker said. "We're actually coming up on our 15-year anniversary next summer."
Mosaic Arts Loft (mosaicartsloft.com) offers arts skill training and education.
"Students are using oils, they're sculpting, they're using potter's wheels, they're learning to draw with arts materials that real artists use," Brucker said. "We see them being empowered. It really is an active professional artists studio."
But suddenly, due to the pandemic, all that changed for Brucker. Most learning spaces were closed, including Mosaic Arts Loft.
"We were determined to find a way to support my students, and their families, during this unexpected pandemic," Brucker said. "I began immediately to search out a solution. As trained artists, we see what could be, not what always is. That's the whole point of art. We proceed into problem-solving, and we work toward whatever that visionary goal is."
Mosaic Arts Loft began offering virtual instruction in place of in-person learning.
"We took the following week after the closure to develop a virtual online platform," Brucker said. "But we realized before we rolled that out we needed to equip them with an at-home arts studio — so we went ahead and purchased arts supplies, easels and storage bags to give to all our students."
For some of Brucker's students, Mosaic Arts Loft has been there for most of their lives.
"Some students I've had, they've come when they're 4 years old, and they're still with me in middle school," Brucker said. "Their whole formative years they've had art skill training. They haven't known life without it."
Before the COVID-19 lockdown, students of all ages, would show up at the Mosaic Arts Loft studio once every week.
"It's like a family," Brucker said. For students, "it's their happy place."
Another Sherwood business that had to adjust to the pandemic is Mathnasium (mathnasium.com/sherwood). It's a locally owned, franchise-based learning center intended to make mathematics accessible for kids.
"They come to us for a variety of reasons," said co-owner Dawn Stadeli of the students at Mathnasium of Sherwood. "Some families are looking for enrichment for their children and some are seeking support."
Co-owner Valerie Hamilton added, "We are striving to help kids build confidence in their math skills and build confidence through their life going forward. We really want to empower kids to be successful."
Prior to the pandemic shutdown, students would attend the Sherwood Mathnasium's physical location.
"It's not a classroom where there's a specific teacher teaching a certain topic," Hamilton said. Instead, Mathnasium provides individualized study.
Hamilton explained, "The kids would come to us and they would work with an instructor on material that was specific to their needs. It would be face-to-face live interaction."
Before COVID-19, Mathnasium of Sherwood would handle up to 50 students throughout the day.
But like Mosaic Arts Loft, change came quickly to Mathnasium when social distancing began and businesses starting shutting down.
"Mathnasium already had a program being implemented for online instruction called [email protected] It was rolling out across the country at different times, with Oregon scheduled to roll out this fall," Stadeli said. "It was a quick, steep learning curve. But we took a bit of time off to figure out the platforms and get different options. Then we transitioned students fairly quickly."
The Mathnasium center was closed March 19, and online instruction began March 23.
"One of the things we needed to do was move toward scheduled appointments because we wanted to be able to have a lot of screen to screen interaction with students," Hamilton said, adding that with online learning, more verbal communication is needed.
"Now sessions begin on the hour," Hamilton said. "Kids sign up to come in. We all go to a group meeting room in the beginning. It's a really nice way for the kids to socially connect with everybody. There's a lot of continuity and engagement there."
One instructor is generally available for every two to three students.
Like Mathnasium, Mosaic Arts Loft is making do for now, but Brucker notes the frustration of not knowing when social distancing measures will be eased and businesses can return to a sense of normalcy.
Public health experts warn the coronavirus will likely circulate both locally and internationally until there is an effective vaccine that provides mass immunity. As we learn more about the virus and how it spreads, governments and businesses alike are becoming increasingly adept at effective social distancing measures. But there are still likely months or years ahead before the virus is no longer a threat, and the World Health Organization warned in May that it could become a regular part of the epidemiological landscape, like the flu or chickenpox, or dengue fever in tropical countries.
The prolonged shutdown has squeezed businesses like Brucker's.
"Now it's two months of tuition cycles coming in below our overhead costs, so we are launching a low-cost online Master Artist Membership to add growth locally and globally," she said. "The cost of running a brick-and-mortar business in Old Town Sherwood is beginning to take its toll."
Brucker added, "We're hopeful, and we're going to keep moving forward with, still, accomplishing our goals with whatever the world is presenting us with. We see our students really thriving, regardless of their age, and so we're going to keep going as long as we can."
Looking forward for her business, Hamilton said she thinks online teaching with [email protected] will still be a good option beyond the pandemic.
"It's very effective for students," Hamilton said. "We will, moving forward, keep this as part of our offerings. We will move back into the center as we're able to, following social distancing. But we will continue to offer this online option, because it gives families some flexibility and we have great results with it."
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