How independent fashion and lifestyle stores are adapting to COVID-19

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In a typical year, the parks, public school parking lots, and rental spaces of downtown Los Angeles come alive with all kinds of pop-up markets and craft fairs. These lively events are aimed at buyers looking for unique, handcrafted, small-batch products.

From seasonal events to weekly deals, independent designers have set up booths filled with unique items. Thousands of style enthusiasts shop for trendy jewelry, organic skin care products, and eco-friendly clothing, all while engaging with the artisans who made them. Food trucks often flank the outskirts, keeping the crowds sated, and DJs set the scene with background beats.

However, 2020 disrupted much of that. While coronavirus restrictions were put in place, most LA retail markets had to end their festivities months ago.

“What we do depends in large part on in-person community events,” said Shawna Dawson Beer, Executive Director of LA sauce, who produces THE Artisanal Santa Monica, downtown LA and Pasadena markets. “We were compelled, understandably but effectively, to cease their activities. “

While most tents full of giveaways have folded, some event planners have come up with workarounds to keep buyers engaged and small business sellers afloat.

Sonja rasula Unique markets typically moves to Los Angeles three times a year, attracting over 5,000 buyers. However, in March, the CEO was forced to put her staff on leave and abandon event plans for the foreseeable future.

Around this time, Rasula’s mother began sending Rasula and her sister regular boxes filled with homemade cookies and other comforts to help them weather the pandemic. This gave him the idea to launch Care Package, a quarterly subscription service that introduces customers to the items they typically find at a Unique event. She plans to personally manage each package and include small business story cards featured.

“We don’t let people know what’s in the box in advance. But the only thing that will always be included is a homemade food or drink, ”said Rasula, paying tribute to her mother.

For Susannah Daly, founder of Renegade Crafting, the solution to event cancellations was to go digital. Adopting the mantra “Gather, Break Up,” Renegade, which is said to have attracted about 20,000 attendees to its biannual events in Los Angeles State Historic Park, launched its Virtual Fair Series.

Sonja Rasula revamped her one-off markets in March, putting staff on leave and abandoning plans for events for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Valérie Vogt)

“We came up with the idea of ​​having all of our artists live at the same time,” said Daly. The online experiential events offered everything from studio tours to mixology tutorials and tarot card readings, with participating artists buying on an all-you-can-eat pay basis.

The team behind the Jackalope Independent Craftsmen Fair also rotated to the online domain to bypass its closures Pasadena and Burbank markets. In addition to Instagram Live sessions with some of her regular vendors, co-founder Sara Diederich and her team have launched a series of “From creators to masters” video course and local infiltration, an online resource highlighting small businesses across the country.

Diederich estimates that Jackalope attracts up to 10,000 attendees engaging with around 200 vendors. In contrast, Instagram’s efforts attract around 500 viewers.

“Digital life just doesn’t compare to the in-person experience,” she said. “But that will have to be the case for now. “

“We considered investing in an online platform for virtual marketplaces,” Beer said, “but it just didn’t work for us.” She said her company had neither received Paycheque Protection Program Loans no subsidies, and the little one Economic disaster loan she received was barely enough to cover six weeks of operating expenses. “Despite a lot of talk about supporting small businesses, little is actually being done in a meaningful way to support small manufacturers and small businesses like ours,” she said.

Yet some markets have chosen to continue to appear, live and in person.

August 2, a mecca for vintage shopping Melrose Trading Post resumed its weekly Sunday events with new COVID Compliant Rules in place. The typical capacity of 3,000 people in the market is now limited to half. The parking layout at Fairfax High School has grown, with staff now monitoring the number of customers at vendor kiosks and adjusting foot traffic patterns to allow for social distancing.

“Vendors who were able to return breathed a sigh of relief when we got the green light to open as COVID unemployment benefits expired this week,” said Natalie Jackson, representative of Green Lane Arts Alliance, the non-profit organization that produces the long-term market.

Laura Max McDonald's Rad Max Vintage boutique

Laura Max McDonald’s Rad Max Vintage shop, which sells vintage sportswear, near the entrance to the Grand Central Market Bazaar in downtown Los Angeles.

(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

She reported that some regular sellers handled the Melrose Trading Post shutdown in mid-March by selling online through sites such as Etsy, Shopify, and Depop. The alliance also posted a supplier directory on its site to keep customers connected. However, Jackson lamented, “COVID still prevents our most vulnerable suppliers from selling at MTP or any other public event.”

When LA cracked down on dining seating, Andrew Daneshgar, director of development for Grand Central Market, took advantage of the suddenly more spacious downtown venue by hosting a weekly bazaar. Now style-hungry customers can shop for vintage clothes and balls where previously ramen noodles were sipped and bagels were eaten.

“To ensure the safety of the event, we expect our bazaar vendors to maintain the same protocols as restaurant tenants,” Daneshgar said, citing rules regarding social distancing, wearing masks and stations. hand sanitizer.

Looking ahead to the holiday season, these market managers display a mixture of optimism and skepticism. Rasula teased an upcoming Unique online store featuring small business products. Diederich is planning a virtual holiday market for Jackalope.

Meanwhile, Daneshgar said the Grand Central Market bazaar is operating on a wait-and-see basis. “COVID has taught us the hard way that things can change quite quickly,” he said. “What might have seemed like a good idea today may not be viable tomorrow.”

Beer gave an equally cautious forecast. “At this point, if I’m completely frank,” she said, “I don’t see what we’re doing significantly coming back until 2021, if not 2022.”


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