The coronavirus pandemic has forced artists on the Long Beach Peninsula to make major changes to how they do business.

Jan Bono, author of the Sylvia Avery Mystery series, said about 95% of her book sales usually come from in-person events during the fall and winter like craft fairs and holiday bazaars. Last year she had 16 events, but this year due to COVID-19, she has none.

“In 2020 with zero bazaars to sell at, I have very little hope that I’ll be able to break even after spending nearly $3,000 in printing costs,” Bono said. “And even though I have a business license and pay sales and income taxes, I don’t qualify for unemployment.”

So Bono has had to come up with other ways to reach customers, including online sales and local deliveries. She said she’s not just thinking outside the box, she’s thinking outside.

On Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, the days after Thanksgiving known for shopping, Bono plans to open up her garage door and invite readers to buy books while wearing masks and social distancing. In December, she’s scheduled to sell books out on the porch of Scoopers in Long Beach and then in the hallway of the Peninsula Senior Activity Center in Klipsan Beach.

“I’ve lost my connection with all my readers,” Bono said. “To go to zero events is rather disheartening but I’m still optimistic. I’m trying to do whatever it takes to make the books easily accessible to people.”

Summer shows canceled

Karen Brownlee of Karen Brownlee Pottery in Long Beach said in the first couple months of quarantine, she sat at home and watched as all of her summer shows got canceled. She realized it was time to adjust.

“As an artist, it was hard to be creative and inspired to do work,” Brownlee said. “I make everything from scratch and I had clay on hand, but I was looking at the things people might need and it didn’t seem the same as in usual years.”

Brownlee said she didn’t think people wanted to buy non-essential items during this time, so she decided to focus on making and selling mugs. Since it was around the time of high school graduations, she reached out to the Ocean Beach School District and created mugs for graduating seniors at a reduced price.

“I got a bulk order where I didn't have to go anywhere, I did it over the phone and someone picked it up,” Brownlee said. After posting photos of the graduation mugs on social media, she received more requests for custom mugs, and started shipping more of her work to customers than she has in years past. She also upgraded to online payment methods instead of using cash like she would at a bazaar.

Brownlee said she has to stay extremely safe and cautious as far as going out in public, as she has a daughter at home who’s at high risk of getting the virus.

“This summer I could have done Saturday or Sunday markets but I just needed to protect myself and I chose not to do those venues because of the risk,” Brownlee said.

She decided to find foot traffic for her work a different way — by asking locally-owned businesses if they’d be willing to sell her pottery as well as the yarn balls she makes. Now, her yarn balls are available at Purly Shell Fiber Arts in Ilwaco and her pottery can be found at BOLD Coffee, Art and Framing in Long Beach.

Brownlee also started offering one-on-one socially-distanced pottery workshops outside or in her garage studio with the door open.

“I feel like I’m having success, but I’m still probably at only a third of the sales that I’ve had in the past,” Brownlee said.

Seashells sell

Cathy Hamilton, a seashell artist based in Ocean Park, has noticed an increase in online sales compared to other years.

She creates ornaments, mirrors, ship wheels, sea creatures and more out of shells through her business, Cathy’s Coastal Creations.

“I know that with COVID things have really changed for small businesses like myself where I would sell hundreds of my seashell ornaments at the bazaars and this will be the first year of online only,” Hamilton said. She added that since she started in 2012, about 50% of her business would come from bazaars.

But luckily for her, online shopping has been a popular activity in the era of quarantine. According to a U.S. Department of Commerce report released in August, retail e-commerce sales in the second quarter of 2020 increased by 31.8% compared to the first quarter of 2020, reaching an estimated $211.5 billion. 

“Because of COVID, more people are online and I’m busy seven days a week in my office,” Hamilton said in mid-October. “I’ve just had the best week on Etsy I’ve ever had since 2012.”

She said she doesn’t know if that increase on Etsy will make up for the loss of business at bazaars and craft fairs, but for now she’s putting more time and energy into advertising online. Hamilton has also started posting her work on local Facebook groups, and offering 20% discounts for customers who pick up the pieces instead of having them shipped.

“You just have to change the way you think,” Hamilton said.

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