With Incomes Down, These People Aren’t Buckling. They’re Getting Creative
We can’t order a craft cocktail after a long shift or leave the house at dawn to get in an hour of hot yoga before work. To stop the spread of COVID-19, our leisure activities du jour, like indulging in artisanal coffees and brews, are on indefinite pause.
But the people who pour the drinks and lead the downward dogs still have to pay the bills.
With the fallout of the coronavirus erasing large portions of income for many workers and business owners, it takes equal parts creativity and adaptability to make ends meet.
Here’s how some people are rising to the challenge.
Bartenders Dish Out Dad Jokes for Tips
Victoria Cavalcanti and Taylor Citek are bartenders at the Dog Bar in St. Petersburg, Florida. They’ve been partners for more than three years. They live and work together, and the way they communicate on the job has become sort of an inside joke with their regulars.
“It’s definitely the best gig in town,” Cavalcanti said, but it’s one of many that doesn’t jive well with social distancing measures. Their hours were reduced from more than 40 to about 15. Instead of serving cocktails, they’re selling inventory. But they’re handling it with humor.
Lots of local bartenders are hurting too, and Citek sees many of them posting their Venmo accounts on social media, asking for tips and assistance.
That gave Citek an idea: Telling jokes for tips. But not any jokes, corny dad jokes. She decided to post on social media, too. “Ten minutes later, I had 15 jokes I had to do right away.”
As an homage to their relationship dynamic, Citek calls them “Hey, Babe” jokes and created an Instagram, Jokes for Babe, to be able to share the jokes with tippers.
Most videos are in selfie mode, featuring Citek creeping in. Cavalcanti is usually cleaning or cooking or sleeping in the background, which is visible over Citek’s shoulder. Some are filmed at the Dog Bar, some are at home. Citek might yell, “Hey, Babe! Want to hear a construction joke?” The camera pans to Cavalcanti’s face, startled and unamused. Then, the punchline: “I’m still working on it!”
Each joke earns them a $5 tip. So far, they’ve done well over 100. Their humor is very literally paying the bills.
“If this keeps going, we could be able to pay bills for a second month,” Citek said.
Online Classes Breathe Life Into Yoga Studio
Janel and Ray Norton co-own Trinity Yoga Studio in New Port Richey, Florida. The business relies on a lot of face-to-face interaction and walk-ins. The coronavirus gutted that model, forcing them to pivot.
With a background as a first responder, Ray Norton was tracking COVID-19 early on. In mid-February the Nortons talked with the instructors to start limiting class sizes, bleach the floors and distribute hand sanitizer. But Ray knew they had to close sooner or later.
They decided on sooner — shuttering to the public about a week before a state-wide order was announced.
“Closing is never good for the business. We knew it was inevitable, but we also knew that we could not continue to hold classes and, at the same time, keep it safe for our students,” Ray said.
Walk-ins have completely stopped, but Janel found a way to maintain many of their more dedicated students who are monthly members. She put her background to use, too. Her experience as a photojournalist helped Trinity Yoga transition to online classes.
Janel uses her camera, directional mics and lighting equipment to record the classes. Ray edits the videos before publishing them to an online wellness platform called Mindbody. Their members can log in and view the classes from anywhere now.
“Yoga is more important than ever before,” Ray said.
Even with online classes, the coronavirus is taking a toll. Their revenue is down 80%. But the Nortons are trying everything — and they’re staying positive.
They negotiated rent with their landlord and applied for emergency coronavirus assistance for small businesses: both the Paycheck Protection Program and for a disaster loan through the Small Business Administration, but they’re still waiting for word about their applications.
Moving forward, Janel sees online classes as an ongoing opportunity for the business. For now, they’re also a way to give back to the community. The studio is offering online courses to first responders, veterans and military members – and providing them with free yoga mats and respirators.
“It could be a whole new revenue stream at this point,” she said. “People that want to see our classes here at Trinity Yoga ― if you live in Alaska you can sign in and buy a class.”
Craft Coffee Guru Brews Up Business by Hosting Live Tutorials
Brendan Smith has several gigs, and all of them rely heavily on events.
For his day job as a sales and outreach coordinator at Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, he’s typically networking at seminars or in-person training events with hundreds and sometimes thousands of people.
On the side, he runs a DJ wedding-service business for high-end weddings and hosts the St. Petersburg Craft Coffee Tour, “which is kind of like a pub crawl but for coffee shops, with an educational bent.”
“All of that has gone away,” he said. “As a result, we’ve had to shift most of our networking and outreach efforts to kind of an online platform.”
Instead of shaking hands at bustling venues or cramped coffee shops, he’s reaching his customers through video and social media.
“I spend a lot of time figuring out live-streaming,” Smith said.
At first, he set up a makeshift studio in his kitchen – arranging lighting, making sure the counters were spotless – while his wife helped record coffee-brewing tutorials. Since the Batdorf training center is empty, he started filming from there.
Restaurant and cafe closures have hurt both his day job and his side gigs, but he’s making ends meet by shifting gears.
“For a lot of people, their coffee habit has moved from going to coffee shops… to now ordering it online, having to brew at home.”
By focusing on home brewing, Smith said online orders have skyrocketed.
“Even though wholesale sales are lower, at-home coffee is growing,” he said, estimating a threefold increase in consumer sales.
He attributes much of that success to trying something new, namely live-streaming.
“Find out where your customers are,” he said. “Find out what they need. Find out what you can learn.”
Books by Bike: Indie Bookstore Tries Novel Delivery Method
After a nomadic two years, hopping from pop-up event to event, the owners of Tombolo Books were happy to open a brick-and-mortar location in St. Petersburg. They opened their doors December 14, 2019. Less than three months later, they had to shut them due to the coronavirus.
At first, co-owner Alsace Walentine was scared to have to close to the public and cancel author events — their bread and butter. But thanks to some quick thinking and creativity, business has been bustling.
“I feel like we have a really strong customer base. And we’re actually gaining new customers, people hearing us being innovative,” Walentine said.
That’s because each day now, around 5 p.m., Walentine packs up customer orders, dons a facemask, gloves and her bicycle helmet and pedals her way around town to make book deliveries by bike. It’s becoming her favorite part of the day.
“Oh, I love it. It’s awesome,” she said. “This is a convenient and healthy way to get them books — and fun for me. It gives me a chance to go out for a bike ride.”
Bicycle deliveries aren’t the only change.
Tombolo shifted its book clubs and community events online and worked with a local artist to design a T-shirt that says “Stay Safe, Read Books,” the proceeds of which go toward the Save Indie Bookstores initiative launched by author James Patterson. Tombolo also facilitates donations of large-print books to local senior living facilities. And for Mother’s Day coming up, Walentine is planning themed care-package gift sets.
Oh, and jigsaw puzzle sales are through the roof.
“It’s basically an adult memory game. You’re looking for shapes and colors. It’s peaceful. It keeps you focused and engaged,” said Walentine.
During the pandemic, peaceful activities that require focus are at a premium. Walentine sees reading as a welcomed form of escape that gives people a sense of control in uncertain times.
“It’s good for your health, not just your intellect,” she said.