While shops, restaurants and galleries are empty all across downtown Athens, a small art shop hidden upstairs on Jackson Street has never been more busy.
Kristen Ashley, owner and founder of K. A. Artist Shop, is just one of many Athens business owners developing new ways to stay connected, and afloat, during the impact of COVID-19.
Ashley opened up shop in 2014 as an extension of her growing Etsy shop, though it has developed into much more since then. In the last six years, K.A. has grown into a full-blown artistry shop, offering a wide array of supplies for painting, calligraphy and more.
K.A. also offers a variety of art classes, which have now gone online due to the virus.
It was kind of a no brainer… We were already teaching classes, so we just took them online. I tried it out first for free,” Ashley said. “It does feel weird to talk to a screen instead of people.”
Ashley has also had to adapt K.A.’s business model by moving all products online, so customers can shop the website. Though K.A. already had a website, Ashley said that quarantine pushed the team to get it customer ready, and fast.
“Working to get all of our products listed online is something we’ve always intended to do… it’s just we were being a little more perfectionist about it. COVID has just accelerated that,” Ashley said.
With purchases switching to online, Ashley started looking into delivery methods. She said delivery companies either don’t work with retail businesses, or the ones that do take a large percentage of the sale.
So, Ashley decided to make herself the local delivery service for K.A.
At the onset, Ashley said she felt OK closing up shop because she knew it was the right public health decision. “You do what’s right, and then you figure it out,” she said.
This mentality proved harder to follow as the days and weeks passed.
After finalizing the decision to stay closed about a month ago, Ashley went through “three days of panic” where she couldn’t sleep, she said. Ashley’s brain stressed over how she would pay the bills and her employees—and she’s not the only one.
Ashley speaks with other Athens business owners about every other morning to touch base and discuss ways to navigate the situation. This past week has been the hardest, she says.
“Everyone’s just hit a wall,” Ashley said. “You’ve been working so hard, and you can only do that so long.”
However, engaging with other business owners, artists and customers gives Ashley hope that the small business community will pull through.
No one wants this to end, what we’ve spent years building… so we’re not going to let it,” she said.
Ashley said she feels most connected to others when teaching online classes or using Instagram live. On Wednesdays, Ashley walks around the store on Instagram live and answers questions from viewers.
“You definitely have to try harder to stay connected,” Ashley said.
Despite the challenges that face small businesses, Ashley says she’s seen some upsides. Beyond getting K.A.’s online store together, she’s also had a change in mindset.
“Now, we’re just thinking that done is better than perfect,” she said. “Just get it out there and roll with it. That’s what’s been working for me.”
Lorna Ramage is a junior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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