Running a microbusiness is tough in a pandemic economy. And the business owners who rely on human interaction to make money are trying to find creative ways to survive.
“I always say we’re a very tactile business,” said Amelia Freeman-Lynde.
Freeman-Lynde owns Freeman’s Creative in Durham, North Carolina, a craft retail store that includes teaching courses, like knitting, sewing and indigo dyeing, as well as community meetups.
At the start of the pandemic, Freeman-Lynde had to close her shop and pivot her business to operate online, teaching virtual classes and doing curbside pickups.
But things started looking up in the last year.
“We ended up reopening in May after vaccines rolled out, and we remodeled our classroom over the summer and resumed in-person classes in October,” she said.
That was until the omicron coronavirus variant hit and Freeman-Lynde faced more uncertainty.
“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal checked in with Freeman-Lynde about how her business had been running before omicron and how it’s going now. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: How have things been at Freeman’s Creative in the last year, I guess, since we talked to you? It’s been up and down, I gather from the laugh.
Amelia Freeman-Lynde: Yeah, if you want to talk about a roller-coaster, that’s been the last year. If you’d talked to me two months ago, I would have said, “Wow, it’s amazing. I feel so great about where things are.” And I think we’d all just like to take January kind of off the calendar for now.
Ryssdal: Yes, we would. Tell me, though, what it’s like trying to run a crafts and creative place where you do in-person stuff, and you try to teach classes and there’s a lot of contact almost by definition. And yet somehow, you have to deal with the virus. How do you do it?
Freeman-Lynde: Sure. I always say we’re a very tactile business. So, when we last spoke, we had been closed and online only in doing virtual classes. We ended up reopening in May after vaccines rolled out, and we remodeled our classroom over the summer and resumed in-person classes in October. So that’s all been great, going really well. We’ve kept mask requirements in place, still restricting capacity in the shop. But yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of physical interaction with students. There’s a lot of handling of materials, and we’re just trying as best as we can to keep everybody safe.
Ryssdal: Yeah. How is the business side of your business? Are you making money? Are you losing money? What are you doing?
Freeman-Lynde: We actually, we really had an incredible fall. I feel like as soon as we reopened, people were really enthusiastic to get back in person and be able to handle the yarn and fabric. So, through the holidays was really great. We actually had a profit last year. So that was pretty incredible.
Ryssdal: Yeah, good. All right. So, a couple of macro questions. First of all, supply chains, right? I mean, you’ve heard and seen the stories — are you feeling it there in your craft shop in Durham, North Carolina?
Freeman-Lynde: There are certain supplies that we’re having a little trouble getting, and it’s a little bit flexible. We’re creative people, so we have creative customers and creative problem-solving. You know, we’re very diverse, we carry a lot of different things. So, it’s not quite so much like the one thing that our business functions based on is out of stock. But we’re just — shipping is taking a lot longer, a lot of things that we preorder in advance like fabric lines, we’re just seeing arrive months later. So, I can’t really, like, promise people when things are going to show up. It’s just really hard to fix anything down by date or timeline. So again, just trying to be creative and keep things moving and find alternatives.
Ryssdal: For sure. What about inflation? You’re bumping prices up at all?
Freeman-Lynde: We’ve always done a little bit every year as our costs go up, increase the prices. I don’t think we’re seeing, like, huge jumps, although I think this year is going to be rough for that. Again, we carry thousands of products, it’s kind of here and there. We’re just having to kind of increase things as prices increase on certain items.
Ryssdal: Right. And then finally, the labor market. It’s you and how many people at Freeman’s Creative?
Freeman-Lynde: Oh, that’s been an exciting time as well. I have one wonderful full-time employee. And we’ve just hired two people who started in January. Yeah, hiring in the fall was rough. We’ve kind of gone through a few, again, wonderful employees who either found full-time work or had other things kind of take them away. But we’re hoping.
Ryssdal: Fingers crossed.
Freeman-Lynde: Not to put anyone on the spot [laughs].
Ryssdal: Yeah. Well, you know, they’ll hear this and they’ll say, “Hmm.”
Freeman-Lynde: I know! Stick around, no quitting.
Ryssdal: Yeah. Do you feel like, and look, this is unknowable, but do you feel like you’re through the worst of it? Are you going to make it through all this?
Freeman-Lynde: I mean, it’s really hard to say what the worst is right now. I feel good about my business. But I think the really hard thing is that so many of us who have small businesses like this, or microbusinesses, have been knocked down again and again. And I just keep seeing more people not getting back up. You know, there’s no more support. It’s kind of like, pull yourself up or get out of the game.