Summer is coming, vaccinations are increasing, and NYC is ready to reopen on July 1st. Small local businesses are returning to activity, and open-air markets are springing up all over the city. One such market ‘Spring Up’ is an immersive dining and shopping experience in Bryant Park through June 20th. The market is a dynamic mix of original art, antiques, jewelry, and kitchens.
One of the many vendors is local brand Yumi Jewelry + Plants, created by Yumi Chen, who has been selling at this market for more than 12 years due to the market’s unique approach. “I think that open-air, outdoor markets especially will be a good way for small businesses to rise during this challenging time. I have seen during this “reopening period” that people want to shop and reconnect.”
Fully vaccinated, Yumi Chen is ready and looking forward to finally selling her products in person and adds that participating in a market offers a friendly way to connect with a steady stream of interested buyers.
Yumi Chen created her brand 17 years ago when recovering from a traumatic arm injury that impaired her right hand and wrist. Her hand therapist
suggested that she try to make jewelry to help regain motor coordination.
“After that, a friend invited me to sell my jewelry at a trunk show, and my business was born. More than 17 years later, I still design jewelry as a form of hand therapy.”
However, like most small businesses, Yumi Chen had all of her retail stores, events, and markets canceled and closed and forced her to move quickly to a fully online sales platform and use her creativity to embrace her business.
“At the start of the pandemic, I wanted to help protect the community and front line workers so, I started sewing masks full-time and donated my masks. I also sold my masks online and am forever grateful to all my loyal customers who placed online orders and helped my business survive the pandemic”, says Yumi Chen.
Ms. Chen’s advice to other businesswomen reading this article is: Be original! Go your own way and stick to your ideas. Work hard to achieve your goals, and good things will always happen! Happy creation!
From Texas to Bryant Park
Another brand participating at Spring Up came from Texas, called Aleja Avila.
Aleja Avila is a Colombian artist born in who uses vibrant colors from her Latin heritage to make leather bags and accessories. She always exhibited her pieces at art festivals, pop-up stores, galleries, and when the pandemic arrived, was very difficult, mainly because much of her business comes from massive outdoor events.
Aleja focused on social media ads and building a retail website during the crisis which has allowed to both maintain her relationships with existing customers and reach new ones.
“At first, handbags were not selling, mainly be-cause no one was going out. So, I started to make more casual pieces you can wear to the park.”
Aleja leaves the following message to other entrepreneurs: “If you are a small business and you survive this crisis, you are focused on continuing to walk, not just as a business, but as a human being.”
Open a business in the middle of the pandemic? Yes, it is possible!
Lauren Sahagian-Massimo decided to create her cheesecake company, “Cheesecake and the City”, at the peak of the pandemic.
She started baking several years ago when she brought a cheesecake to a company potluck, and her co-workers were raving about it. “A few of them
had suggested I start selling them, which put the idea in my head, but I never followed through with it. Once the pandemic hit and I worked from home, I decided to start writing recipes, posting pictures on Instagram and just seeing what happens.”
However, she admits that building a mark during the pandemic was a bit scary.
According to her, the biggest challenge at the start was getting a wide range of taste testers. “No one wanted me making deliveries, even for free cake, because there was so much uncertainty about COVID. It’s so important to have others try my products. If multiple people are making the same suggestions, I’ll rework my recipe.”
Aside from having a hard time finding taste testers, she was having a hard time finding customers as well. Luckily, she had recipes solidified and ready to go for Thanksgiving 2020, when her business picked up.
On the other hand, she learned some tricks. “ I’ve always shopped with coupons casually, but now I go out of my way to find coupons. I also review sales at my local grocery stores to plan out bulk purchases.” And also how to do your marketing. “I have been working with a few food influencers on Instagram for marketing and customer outreach. One woman I’m working with now is assisting me with my photos and presenting my cakes on Instagram better. I’ve had pretty great customer feedback so far.”
She is a total Instagram business, takes all DM orders, and works on getting some photos taken professionally to build a website. That way, she can reach customers who may not be on Instagram.
Moreover, she does not stop there. Full of plans for the future, she says after starting with street markets and pop-up locations, she plans on having a storefront, but not just a bakery, a bakery gallery.
Her message to entrepreneurs who dream of opening their own business but being afraid is: “My best advice if you want to start or expand a business, do it. I know it is a cliché answer, but it is so true. If you keep waiting for the perfect moment, you will eventually run out of time.”