The Media School

Indiana small businesses struggle under effects of COVID-19

April 28th, 2020 by
Photograph courtesy of Jenny Bryans

Greenwood resident Jenny Bryans owns Campus Closet, a secondhand store near the University of Indianapolis campus. Since COVID-19, however, she closed the store's physical location. She doesn’t expect she will open it again.

Seven years before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ellettsville resident and IU student Genna Weisheit taught herself to make watercolor jewelry, small paintings set in resin. Then, she moved on to stamped jewelry, pressing messages like “Mama Bear” and “Fearless” into metal bracelets. Two years ago, she learned metalsmithing from online tutorials.

She started her Etsy shop, Sunflower Moon Studio, to sell her creations. In addition to her job as a supervisor at the Indiana Department of Child Services, the online store provided her extra income.

Now, COVID-19 has put that income in jeopardy.

“Basically the minute it hit the United States, my orders went to zero,” she said.

Weisheit, 35, is one of over 500,000 small business owners in Indiana struggling since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Weisheit experienced a 32% decrease in her sales this year, as well as an 83% decrease in visits to her online storefront.

One reason for this, she said, was economic. As non-essential businesses across the country have closed, over 10 million Americans filed for unemployment, according to an April 9 U.S. Department of Labor release. This left many without the money to support small businesses like hers.

“A lot of people are out of work, so they don’t have the disposable income to purchase jewelry,” she said. “Obviously, that’s not a necessity.”

Photograph courtesy of Genna Weisheit

Elletsville resident Genna Weisheit taught herself to create jewelry, like this stamped bracelet, seven years ago. She sells her creations on her Etsy store, Sunflower Moon Studio. However, since COVID-19 hit the U.S., her store’s sales have dropped 32%.

COVID-19’s economic impact has also affected Greenwood resident Jenny Bryans, 53, who owns Campus Closet, a small secondhand clothing store near the University of Indianapolis. After students, who make up most of her sales, switched to online courses, she closed the store’s physical location.

“I had hoped to open it up again when the students came back, but now they’re going to be gone for the rest of the year,” she said.

Bryans still sells secondhand clothing from Campus Closet on an app and website called Poshmark, a marketplace for secondhand clothing. However, like Weisheit, her online sales have been impacted as the app responded to world events.

“At one point [Poshmark] increased the shipping costs, and I really noticed things die down a lot for a period of time,” she said.

Weisheit cited social distancing as another reason for the decline in her business. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended Americans stay in their homes and limit social contact to control the spread of COVID-19.

“A lot of times I made stuff for birthdays, get-togethers, or vacations,” she said. “So people probably aren’t doing that either.”

In addition, though the CDC has found no evidence that COVID-19 spreads through mail, Weisheit thinks that fear of catching the disease through packages keeps buyers away.

Bryans said Poshmark has released information on the safety of receiving purchases by mail. Sellers on the app have also taken steps to assuage customers’ safety concerns.

“A lot of people are out of work, so they don’t have the disposable income to purchase jewelry. Obviously, that’s not a necessity.” – Genna Weisheit, Owner, Sunflower Moon Studio

“One of the Poshmark sellers put a notice in her closet that said the procedures that she goes through before she sends any products,” she said. “She sprays everything with disinfectant.”

Despite the troubles caused by the pandemic, Weisheit is optimistic about Sunflower Moon Studio. Since the crisis began, she has seen her sales start to come back.

“I just think it will be slower for a little bit, and then hopefully things will get better,” she said. “I think it will bounce back.”

Bryans has also seen improvement in her Poshmark sales.

“I think people were like, ‘Oh well, I still want to shop,’ and went back to it,” she said.

However, COVID-19 likely spells the end of Campus Closet’s physical location.

“I don’t foresee me opening it back up,” she said. “My lease that I had signed is through to August, so with COVID-19, it doesn’t look very promising.”

In response to the crisis, both Weisheit and Bryans have tried to support other small businesses. Bryans purchased clothing from other Poshmark sellers.

“I feel like that’s good business to support each other,” she said.

Weisheit got takeout from Switchyard Brewing Company and made purchases at Gather, a gift shop selling handmade goods from local creators. She said buying from small businesses is the best way to protect them during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Supporting small business is good because you’re directly impacting a family,” she said. “I’m married and I have two kids, so a lot of the disposable income goes toward stuff that I buy my kids, like clothes and toys. So when you’re supporting a small business, you’re supporting a person.”