"Pretty quickly all income seemed to screech to a halt for the summer, or unknowable span of time, but applying creativity to a new solution has become my new challenge."
- Erica Moody
"The global pandemic has had an interesting and not entirely negative impact on my business."
- Emily Selinger, Emily’s Oysters
"The impact of COVID-19 on my business has been both a concrete, tangible thing and wispy, foggy phantom."
- Amy Vander Els
There are shared commonalities among these three women:
They are independent female business owners, makers and masters, passionate people of their craft.
They are deeply ingrained into their respective communities: Amy Vander Els in Amesbury, MA, Erica Moody in Waldoboro, ME, and Emily Selinger in South Freeport, ME.
Each of the three are sustained by their business. Their business is their livelihood. And their livelihood requires (hard) work with their hands, huddling over a workbench, or orchestrating materials, deliveries, shipments.
They are Renaissance women, and like many, many small business owners, are facing uncharted territory and rocky waters. They have seen and felt very suddenly, the impact of COVID-19, as it has slowly, steadily creeped into all corners of our world.
And this is not to discredit the collective. We all have been impacted, in some way or another. This article is not designed to be a crying call but one that shares an experience; one that sheds light on another viewpoint of impact and how it is felt, shared, defined, and approached.
Impact: // the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another; to have a strong effect on someone or something; the effect or influence of one person, thing, or action, on another.
Erica Moody of Fine Metal Works makes fine metalware and custom hardware using traditional metalworking on analog, industrial machines and, instructs and teaches workshops designed to introduce accessible metalworking techniques to the woodworking and wooden boat building communities. Looking at her hands, you’ll see the grit, the strength, the stress.
On her website and to us, she calls out that yes, "making a living doing her type of maker-work is a lifestyle choice and is difficult to sustain in a modern world". I believe that Amy and Emily would agree. However, none of us would have previously linked modern world to global pandemic.
"I’ve slowed my ability to work effectively, shifting my focus to figuring out how to re-structure my world, managing worry, and navigating complications of resolving big life changes which were in the middle of being processed when covid came to town..." Erica detailed. "It has always been financially tight, and this adds a new twist and heightened concern for how to plan for the future."
For Amy Vander Els, Jewelry Maker & Designer and Encaustic Painter & Teacher, the very first real impact she felt from COVID-19 was canceling her encaustic workshops and pausing her in-studio jewelry support and production team. "Everyone had to stop coming into my studio to work and found ways to keep production going remotely. I am still able to carry on in my studio, but it is pretty lonely to not have them in each week to help out".
The independent-maker-artist life often includes moments and feelings of loneliness, I’d imagine. There’s no team emails, small-talk around the office. There’s no Zoom, team status meetings, or commiserating of the emotional stress overload that a global pandemic has on a person or business. For these women, someone stopping by, your studio support, your deliveries and drop-offs to your partners, these people are your team members; your coworkers.
Emily Selinger, Owner of Emily’s Oysters, has seen a notable shift to the organizations of people that sustain and move her product through the greater supply chain. "As an oyster farmer, I typically look to having a variety of different outlets for my product. This includes selling oysters to restaurants, seafood dealers, as well as, in my case, direct to consumers. The greatest hit to the larger oyster industry has been losing those restaurant and dealer outlets for sales, as they are often the easiest and most efficient way to move a larger quantity of product in a shorter amount of time (many oyster growers rely solely on these types of outlets for their product, and are thus hurting greatly right now)."
Erica, Amy, and Emily, like so many, are asking “Amidst all of this how do I carry on?" For these three women, it’s been a practice of discovering, uncovering, and reconnecting to what is sustaining - for both themselves and their business.
"I’m not trying to figure anything except trying to focus on each day’s needs as they come. The news and nature of my logistics change drastically throughout each day, so I cannot think beyond each current day” Erica shared. Similarly, Amy shared," My friend Sarah texted this to me last week: "I'm learning a slower, smaller way of life and trying not to look too far ahead." I liked that. I'm trying not to expect anything, and just stay positive, grounded and hopeful."
In speaking with these three, I can confidently say that it hasn’t been all bad. They’ve seen new partnerships emerge, and communities and both steady and new customers lift them up in new ways.
For Erica, she’s emphasizing connection and mutuality in her business partnerships. "I am reaching out to my customers and colleagues in a compassionate way, feeling that connection and support is the priority, and having faith that this type of action will be the strength that allows us to persevere."
For Amy, she’s learning to lean on, find, and remember as an independent maker, her support system: other artists and makers.
"I think one of the huge positives is that it has really brought the community of "makers" together; offering support to fellow small businesses, sharing links to grant applications, teaming up for fundraisers and giveaways, tags, shout-outs and collaborations on social media etc. It has been amazing to see how quickly everyone has pivoted, has adapted and has pushed forward, figuring out ways to thrive, do well and do good in these trying times. The future is pretty unclear, but I feel very lucky to be in it with them."
"For Emily, she’s seen exponential growth in her direct-to-consumer sales. “I went into this pandemic with a solid base of loyal local customers who have really stepped up their game in supporting me over the last month. I've also reached a remarkable number of new local folks through social media during this time as well, who will hopefully stick around and keep buying from me after this has passed. My average weekly direct to consumer sales have exponentially increased, and are keeping me busy with local deliveries."
Amy Vander Els has carried on in ways that have felt right. "I have been working closely with my store accounts to help update and promote their online shops until they are able to reopen. I released my 2020 line on my website at the beginning of April and have been able to continue to promote my work and my story through Instagram and weekly-ish newsletters."
In so many ways, operations are full steam ahead.
And it’s not just keeping business going - Erica, Amy, and Emily all spoke of what’s sustaining them; their spirits and faith:
"Neighbors putting a candle in the window for me, daily family text check-in, calls from friends, and, it being Springtime, seeing nature thrive no matter the chaos."
Link to site: https://www.ericamoody.com/
Erica is resurrecting her holiday 10% donations of each sale to a local food bank, and is offering free shipping.
"Birds chirping. Blossoming trees. Long runs. Brandi Carlile's voice. My mom's molasses cookies, soothing my soul."
Amy Vander Els
Link to site: https://www.amyvanderels.com/
Through the end of May, Amy is offering free shipping on all orders and is pledging a portion of her sales to Rosie's Place, a sanctuary for poor and homeless women.
"I am finding great hope in the thought that this pandemic might encourage more local food buying directly from the producers. I love selling oysters to people who are going to eat them at home! It brings me a lot of personal joy to interact with my customers, see their photos of how they served their oysters and who they shared them with, and hear their memories of eating them with family and friends."
Link to site: https://www.emilysoysters.com/
Emily is offering delivery within 25 miles of South Freeport, ME on Fridays.
To support and learn more of each of these women, and in the spirit of community, please consider sharing this article with those who might find resilience, connection or interest in the words or photos.
Thank you for reading,
Kayla Doyle and Jes Theos