Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Realm of Small Shops that the "Shop Small" "Shop Local" "Made in America" movement may have not considered...

The Realm of Small Businesses that the “Shop Small” “Shop Local” “Made in America” Movement May Have Missed and How they are Suffering during this COVID-19 Pandemic

Woman standing in front of shop

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When you hear the phrase “Shop Small” or “Shop Local”, thoughts may bend toward a small mom & pop shop somewhere nearby, in your town. Take a second, what popped into your mind? Who and what place came to mind when you read, “shop small” and “shop local”? 

Hold that Thought

Your heart and values may find it important to support the small local businesses, that little non-chain, non-big box retailer, the non-huge corporate owned business. 

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Pull Up that Thought

Does it include persons and families with small businesses that may not have a permanent brick-and-mortar location to sell from, businesses that up until this crisis had no online sales presence and only displayed and offered their items and services for in-person, face-to-face sales.

No, not MLM or network marketing, just in case that came to mind.

Here we’re referring to the small businesses that you find at festivals, for the sake of this article we’re focusing on the vendors you would see and shop from at any one of our nation’s Renaissance Festivals, also known as fairs.

If you have ever been to any festival, maybe even a hot air balloon festival or some other town festival, you may recall the many booths where vendors offer their skillfully handcrafted items for sale. You may have even enjoyed finding something novel and unique that you decided to buy.

The great majority of Renaissance Festival vendors work on and build up their inventory during off season and may participate as a vendor at one or several festivals throughout the year. Many may travel throughout their state or to other state festivals to set up their booths.

They register in advance, possibly paying advance commissions, pay booth space fees, insurances and invest in materials needed to create all that they sell. Keep in mind that many have no brick-and-mortar permanent business location. They only sell in-person, not online. They are truly a small business participating and selling within the world of Renaissance Festivals and they do very well. 

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The COVID-19 Pandemic requires all the festivals to be closed

Instantly, the sales of an entire group of small businesses come to a crashing halt. No workarounds, there are no curbside pick-ups. For a realm of vendors whom for years have appreciated the successful interaction and personal touch that comes with face-to-face sales, the closures of the festivals have brought great depression and anxiety to many.

In an effort to survive, many have scrambled to build or are building online stores, resorting to platforms such as Etsy and over 38,000 people are participating in Facebook groups like Faire Relief 2020 and other groups; forums where they can promote their business, post pictures of their items and interact virtually with interested customers. Many must rely on FB groups until, if possible, they can create an online store. 

The Financial Floor Drops Out from Under the Renaissance Festival Vendors

Except, despite taking it online, the sales are insufficient and very minimal for so many. Some have expressed depression, anxiety, and fear for how they will be able to withstand the financial floor being dropped out from under them and how they will be able to pick back up once this crisis is over.

For Ancient Mysteries (http://ancient-mysteries.org/) owner Ariana Lightningstorm, although not a vendor of items, but of services instead; this pandemic has been devastating. Despite also providing services at other events outside of Renaissance Festivals, her income had “dropped from comfortable to zero in March” 2020. She has made efforts at virtual services, but the transition “is like starting all over again”. It is now June and getting the word out that she is available on a virtual basis has been “going slowly.”

Awareness of a new online presence seems to be a great hurdle for so many vendors. Where there was once no need to depend on social media and forms of advertising, now they face a learning curve regarding creating and maintaining an online presence for sales, plus getting the word out that they are there, that they exist.

Another example is WizArts (http://wizArts.us) , according to owner and artisan Melinda Puho, the closures of the festivals has been so detrimental that they have been awarded a $500 GoFundMe.org small business relief grant. Their circumstance is even more grim because they are immigrants from Transylvania who had been and are currently still in the process of waiting to secure their Green Cards. Despite being in the states and selling their artwork in the festivals since 2018 and contributing taxes on their sales. This status, that of Green Card pending, means that they do not qualify for any aid, loans, or stimulus checks, they are entirely at the mercy of generosity towards their GoFundMe campaign (https://gf.me/u/x9scic) and online sales. Except, same as the owner of Ancient Mysteries, online sales cannot compete with face-to-face sales at the festivals.

The closures of the festivals have wreaked havoc on so many lives, the anxiety and depression run so deep for so many. The owner, Kristin Gallup, of KrakenWhip (www.krakenwhip.com) has been selling successfully at Renaissance Festivals for almost six years now and same as the others, the income stalled to barely a trickle. Her once successful $300,000 per year in sales is now looking like maybe, with a great amount of luck, possibly $40,000 for the year. Although, that is just a hopeful projection.

Anna Marie Torre Wright, owner of Prancing Pony Pottery (www.prancingponypottery.com) would normally vend at the Virginia Renaissance Faire among a few other festivals and states that, “having these shows cancel has evaporated my studio’s income”. Fortunately for Prancing Pony Pottery, an online presence had been in the making prior to the pandemic and closures of the festivals. Once the closures hit, owner Anna Marie Torre Wright states, “we went into overdrive to roll out the e-commerce portion of my website” and “while it had a slow start, sales were stronger than expected for the month of May which gives me hope about the website making up a portion of lost sales.”

This evaporation of income is a shared theme across all the Renaissance Festival vendors regardless of what they create and sell or the service they provide. Although not focused on in this article, the experience rings true for the entertainers as well. 

Reopening of Renaissance Festivals and COVID-19 Fear

When the festivals open back up (even with adherence to CDC guidelines), there are some vendors who fear for their health due to being in a high-risk category and have expressed the decision to continue to pursue and build their online sales. 

 The Future of Renaissance Festival Vendors

It has been heartbreaking to read the stories that have been submitted. I cannot help but think about the difficulties that vendors, truly small businesses, may be faced with in trying to pick back up once society and the Renaissance festivals are open and running again. Those who are living with little to nothing in sales right now will need to be capable of affording the overhead necessary to claim their booth space at the festivals. The festival atmosphere may look a little different in terms of vendors on site. 
 
Our Hope and a Positive Note

The hope is that the awareness of Renaissance Festival vendor’s online sales will go viral, beyond those who would normally visit the festivals, but reach those who have never been.

On a positive note, the closures and forced transition of vendors to online sales provides an awesome opportunity for the wider public to visit, scroll through, view, and purchase any of the many skillfully handcrafted items created by Renaissance Festival artisans; anything from jewelry, hair accessories, cups, steins, one-of-a-kind leather and wood work, children’s toys, “period” clothing/costumes, stained glass and blown glass creations and so much more.

 

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Renaissance Festival Vendors 
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Where You Can Find Them

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**For the sake of this article, a Call for Stories was made and the substance of this article is based off several anonymous social media post comments that were made by various vendors over the course of the last few months and the letters received in response to the Call for Stories. It is by far nowhere near a report compiled from any scientific quantitative or qualitative study.


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