In the changing business environment brought on by COVID-19 restrictions, some Evanston businesses have managed to adapt and thrive.
This is a series about the three of them. Has your business changed? Please contact Roundtable so we can tell your story.
Social media experts are in the pipeline
Ella’s original (1511 Sherman Ave.) is a retail beading store owned by renowned beading and jewelry designer Ayla Pizzo. When the COVID-19 restrictions took effect in March 2020, she and her husband, Joe, who manages the store with her, faced a loss of nearly all of their income. Federal Paycheck Protection Program loans keep them afloat for the time being.
But they changed the business and created a new way of selling directly to customers’ homes: They became social media entrepreneurs, hosting Bead TV on Facebook Live two or three times a week.
Through hard work and perseverance, and the encouragement of their good friend and seasoned Facebook Live host Carol Freeman, the Pizzos persevered and developed a following.
Their audience is not large, but the people who listen are faithful beads who recognize the range of choice and expertise that Pizzos offers. They buy specialty products. Over and over again, sales have improved.
Once the COVID-19 restrictions were eased, when they stopped in July 2020, retail traffic was still down significantly. Ayla’s Originals is located in downtown Evanston, 100 feet north of the Holiday Inn Chicago North-Evanston. Before COVID, the store benefited from tourists staying in hotels and hanging out downtown. That summer, the hotel was occupied by homeless people, not tourists.
But thanks to their success on Bead TV, Ayla said that while they were all tired, the store’s revenue stabilized.
They run the store Wednesday through Sunday, filming about six or seven hours a week, before spending another day managing invoicing, packing orders and shipping. Ella described her mindset as “retail burned out”.
The next big push is to launch their new website and include the ability to allow viewers to order directly from Bead TV.
Transfer to a floral design studio
For the past 23 years, Joanne Leiman has owned FlowersFlowers (1110 Davis Street), a florist across the street from the Post Office. She has also changed her business model because of COVID-19.
Before, they were a shop where people could stroll around to buy flowers or plants without an appointment, but now Lehman’s business is entirely a floral design studio.
The government closed her business for six weeks. She fired her employees so they could collect unemployment benefits. When they finally returned, COVID restrictions kept people out of stores. Leiman found that she and her staff were more productive without disruption to accommodate random retail traffic.
Much of their current business is providing event flowers for weddings, anniversaries, bars and bar mitzvahs. While many large weddings have been postponed during the pandemic, many others have been smaller. “Every bride wants a bunch,” Lehman said.
Leiman has successfully launched a subscription plan for weekly or monthly flower delivery, and her clients continue to send flowers.
“You have to remember in the early days of COVID, before the vaccine,” Leiman said. “We were sanitizing everything, especially the containers we used for flowers.
“People are stuck at home and can’t see their friends, but they still want to show support, to show their concern, what better way to do it than with flowers? I realize how lucky we are to live and work here, And have customers who can support luxury.”
She has more people working for her now than before the Covid-19 pandemic. Her biggest headache is the unstable supply chain. “In March 2020, I never thought things would turn out this way. We feel very lucky,” she said.
Another business owner who has shown agility and ingenuity is Tani Mintz, Sharp-edged CrossFit (1326 Dodge Ave). Mintz is a relatively new business owner, having used the Sharp Edge CrossFit in Evanston for only about five years.
But she grew up here and loves community.
Mintz said the support she received from the office of former Mayor Elizabeth Tisdale helped her sign the lease here instead of Skokie. As an ETHS Class of 2002 graduate, Mintz has always been athletic. In February 2002, she fell in love with speed skating after competing with her family at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. She told her parents that she wanted to be a speed skater and compete in the Olympics.
He also qualified for the 3000-meter speed skating Olympic trials three times. After retirement, Mintz attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And get a Master of Business and a Law degree in four years.
Mintz has exercised and coached at CrossFit throughout graduate school. She realized that owning a gym, helping people get fit, and being her own boss was a satisfying career. She combines all her interests and makes the most of her education.
She started thinking about opening a gym in Skokie, but kept running into bureaucratic troubles. She envisioned a gym with a garage door, a requirement that narrowed her options considerably. Teasdale then contacted Mintz, saying that Evanston would help her find a spot. Paul Zalmezak, manager of the city’s economic development department, is involved and provides guidance on city ordinances.
She got space in Evanston with the garage door she wanted, and she’s still there. She signed the lease in August. January 1, 2017. Two months later, Mintz opened the gym.
This is not a drop, but a membership model with classes throughout the day. The garage door was open from spring to fall when it wasn’t raining, but before COVID, they used strong heaters in winter when the garage door was closed.
COVID restrictions hit, gyms closed for 10 weeks. When it opens, its capacity is reduced and the garage door remains open. Mintz kept the heat on, and the masked members wore winter clothes for exercise. They warmed up with Mintz and other coaches.
Members love this new approach. Membership has increased 33% since the pandemic. People seem to be happy to get out of the house and resume their daily exercise routine, Mintz said. At the height of the pandemic, Mintz slightly reduced class sizes to about eight. It’s about 10 now.
The pandemic prompted changes in her business. However, Mintz said they helped his business thrive and stand out among North Shore athletes looking to stay or stay in shape.