All sorts of businesses around Richmond are trying to survive in the midst of quarantine; coming up with survival strategies has been even tougher for those deemed non-essential.
With Governor Northam’s recent issue of a mandatory lockdown, it’s clear business won’t be getting back to usual anytime soon.
In the last couple of weeks, there’s been a big push (rightly so) to support local restaurants and breweries. Online delivery and curbside pickup are now the norm, and potentially the only way for these businesses to survive. It’s been amazing to witness the community come together and rally behind these establishments who’ve made our renowned culinary and craft beer scene possible. After all, eating and drinking is essential – not only to our survival, but to our enjoyment of life as well.
But what about the people working in business deemed “non-essential?” From entrepreneurs and artists to retail store owners and fitness instructors, these are the individuals who provide services that, during our current crisis, may not be “essential” for our survival. However, their income (or lack thereof) is directly tied to their survival.
This is the case for my husband and me as we run our own creative studio, EVERGIB. Within a few days, we felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with the immediate loss of a brand launch project for a new restaurant. As independent creative professionals, we know all too well that when the economy takes a hit, we’re among the first to be affected. Now, no one is immune. As we self-isolate in our respective homes, we decided to reach out to friends and colleagues working across a variety of fields to learn what their life, and their livelihood, looks like during this challenging time.
“Fear and uncertainty” are top of mind for Jason St. Peter, owner of Think, a fellow independent creative services agency in town. Like us, he’s experiencing a decrease in workflow, but trying to keep things in perspective, adding that “the drama happening with the rest of our country’s workforce and health is far more concerning.”
Matthew Freeman is founder of Dialectix Consulting, which offers facilitation and training around diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Almost every single project I had has been cancelled or postponed,” he states. The work is “both high-touch, in-person work and not a priority for organizations when their survival is at stake.”
Kate Thompson, of Kate Thompson Photography and Palindrome Creative, is feeling the crunch as well. A commercial photographer specializing in interior design and hospitality who recently completed work for Quirk Hotel Charlottesville, her focus has now turned to concerns about delayed income and loss of business, since photography is generally viewed as a “luxury” item. To stay hopeful, Thompson says, “I’m reminding myself that this, too, shall pass.”
Katrina Boone, owner of Gianna Grace Photography and creator of Dancers of RVA, shares similar thoughts. “I never in a million years believed I would lose a whole month’s worth of work that has been scheduled for almost a year… I am now aware of just how fragile best-laid plans can be.”
Small business owner Jolinda Smithson of Shapes & Colors used to rely heavily on in-person meetings to generate new business. She’s adapting by connecting and expanding her network virtually. As host of CreativeMornings RVA, she’s particularly mindful of inclusivity within the community, reminding us that “businesses of color will be intensely impacted. It’s important to elevate those stories so folks get the support and resources they need to stay afloat.”
Kristen Ziegler, owner of Minima, a professional organizing and minimalist business, has also had to adapt. “Our business model is based on face-to-face organizing services in our clients’ homes and businesses,” states Ziegler. “Over half of our clients have asked to postpone their sessions. We’re losing at least half of our anticipated revenue as of now, and I only imagine things will get worse as the situation progresses.”
Ashley Hawkins is in a similar situation with her non-profit community arts studio, Studio Two Three. She’s dealing with a substantial loss of revenue due to program cancellations. Therefore, she’s ramped up her studio’s online shop, offering custom prints, shirts, tote bags, and other items for sale. “It’s a great way of supporting the studio and also getting something beautiful to remind us that we are all in this together.”
At Dogtown Dance Theatre, Jess Burgess, Artistic and Executive Director, is not only concerned for the future of her company, but the small staff she employs. Since 2010, Dogtown has been a staple for independent artists and community-based dancers. “In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve been forced to close our doors, closing off access to the classes, performances, and workshops that keep our region culturally vibrant.”
Burgess remarked that on top of the loss of income, the loss of community has been particularly difficult. “Nonprofit organizations, rooted in the community, cannot afford this hit, both to earned and contributed revenue, and the long-term effects it could have on programs and services offered to the public.”
That type of devastating ripple effect translates to the theatre world as well. Laine Satterfield is Director of Education at Cadence Theatre Company, a small, independent performing arts theater. They’ve had to postpone all performances and community events indefinitely, putting the entire close-knit cast and crew in limbo. Ironically, its spring production, Small Mouth Sounds, tells the stories of strangers seeking to find themselves through isolation.
Like countless others, Sonja Stoeckli, owner of Spiritual Flow Yoga, has had to rethink ways of doing business. She and her teachers are offering online classes through Zoom for a reduced fee. “I have to pay my teachers as otherwise, they have no income as well,” she says. “I try to charge a little bit for our classes. It’s hard, as many people are not able to pay anymore because they lost their jobs.”
Audrey Bonafe, owner of Fighting Gravity Fitness, is faced with similar challenges, and trying to see the bright side of things. “There will always be something to learn and grow from. We will become stronger and wiser. We are all being forced to offer online classes now, and that was something we needed to do anyway.”
That notion of being forced into action seems to be a common theme for everyone. Social entrepreneur Kelli Lemon of Urban Hang Suite, among other ventures, is also trying to take a more positive spin. “We are all in this together. We truly have the opportunity to look at things differently.”
They say constraint breeds creativity. And therein is where the solution for the survival of “non-essentials” may lie. It’s about finding creative ways to get through this together. Most likely, the success of our professional lives depends on the support of people. And in times of crisis, we need each other more than ever (that goes for our personal well-being too). It’s up to all of us to find ways to lift each other up, to help create more awareness of the different challenges we face, and to understand that despite our differences, we all share this same burden of uncertainty together.
Already there have been inspiring acts of kindness and selflessness from “non-essentials” leveraging their skills and expertise to help the community. Dustin Artz and Justin Bajan of local ad agency Familiar Creatures created Keep Calm and Nom Nom, a one-stop online shop for purchasing gift cards to support RVA restaurants.
Artist Nico Cathcart and other Richmond muralists designed custom tee shirts that are now for sale on RVA Together. Each purchase provides a donation to Feedmore. Similarly, artist Noah Scalin of Another Limited Rebellion has a limited edition tee shirt for sale, for which all profits will go to support the Sacred Heart Center. Both initiatives are in collaboration with local print shop K2 Custom Tees.
Photographer Cade Martin has developed The Creative Now, featuring interviews with creative professionals sharing their experiences about what they’re doing to stay creative. Tania del Carmen, another local photographer, created #OnHoldAtHome, a photography series that aims to shine a light on how, despite the different challenges we face during COVID-19, we’re all connected in a shared vulnerability.
While we’re all justifiably concerned about our individual livelihoods, these examples show the benefit of looking outside ourselves. If we’re feeling invisible, chances are that others are feeling the same way too. Perhaps the best way to help ourselves is by first helping others. There is power in being proactive and taking some kind – any kind – of action.
Reach out. Check in. Start conversations. Don’t just ask people to write a positive testimonial and/or review for your business – do the same for them in return. Refer people’s work and services to those who may have a need for it, particularly those fortunate enough to be maintaining a stable income. If someone refers you, thank them for taking the time to do so. Create a list of the people you know who should know one another, and make introductions for future reference. This is also a great time to become a mentor, or to search for one. Initiatives such as Coffee At A Distance connect experienced industry professionals with graduates, many of whom are entering the job market for the first time.
As we depend even more on our virtual interaction, online and social platforms is where we can particularly make an impact. Tagging, liking, commenting, and promoting people’s work or services may seem insignificant, but can often make a big difference in keeping everyone visible.
Right now, we might not have a lot of control, certainty or peace of mind. But we may have a lot of time. Let’s use it wisely.
Top Photo: Ashley Hawkins is Executive Director and Co-Founder of Studio Two Three, a non-profit community arts studio. Photo by EVERGIB. All photos were taken with the necessary precautions and from a distance of 6+ feet.