Three years ago this week we launched the Artisan Market in Eureka! I am so grateful we got 4 months before COVID shut it down, because the Lord showed us that there was a real viability! Aaaand then COVID came, and we were shut down.
We had expanded into our third unit in the building in January 2020 - hoping to start ministry groups and classes in the new year... but instead we immediately engaged the work of closing the class and studio area. In college, I had studied microbiology, and I knew that we were in for a longer road than initially indicated.
In the summer of 2020, we reopened, but almost no one was coming out shopping anymore. We staffed a few hours a week, but it was so slow. And we had a personal tragedy unfold that prevented Clyve and I from doing that staffing.... SO we sputtered along through the fall and winter, but it was never more than 10-30% of the business done pre-COVID. Staffing was tricky with finances in the red. We had someone present a few hours a day on the weekends, but shoppers were fewer and farther between as the local infection numbers climbed. I was telling everyone that I could not conceive of a way we would be able to stay in business; I was sure we needed to close it down.
But ironically, we just about had enough come in to cover our most basic expenses almost every month... so we kept going. It became harder to staff as the time was almost entirely without customers... that is psychologically difficult for everyone involved during a pandemic.
But our difficulties were only actually beginning. In 2021, my son became very ill, hospitalized with seizures and illness several times starting in January. And in August after another major seizure, we did close the store. I could not wrangle the work of it while just focusing on his well-being and healing. We had already moved out of the second unit in the building, and things looked bleak. So we were actually fully closed from August - December 2021.
We had been considering the self-checkout concept since summer 2020 - but finally got the most basic orchestration of it launched in mid-December 2021. Within a week or two of re-opening, the front of the building got boarded up for an overhaul! I was not particularly bothered by it being covered though, because the whole time it was boarded, I was testing, refining, and fiddling with the self-checkout set-up. (Apologies and gratitude to everyone who came in and revealed its flaws!)
For the last few months, we have had business that is at least starting to pick back up. It is still under 30% of the volume pre-COVID... but people have a more buoyant outlook, it seems. And we have had a lot of fun when I've gotten to work with customers. It is exactly what I had hoped - most folks receive the self-checkout concept with excitement, curiosity, and gratitude for more availability.
I know some folks will hate the idea. But by now, most people engage in many shopping iterations - both online and in person, self-payment is implicit in the retail landscape now. And some folks immediately started coming in during atypical shopping times. We've recently had some 1:30 AM shoppers, some 11:30 PM shoppers, a 5 AM shopper... and lots of 7:30-8 PM shoppers. Mostly moms and kids, ladies out enjoying their time, girls off a shift at a local restaurant, commuters through town on their way to work...
I did not actually like anything(!) about the self-checkout set-up until about a month ago - except that it allowed us to be actually open - lol. BUT I think we finally have it functional in every iteration. We offer Paypal, Venmo, and credit card kiosk onsite with Square. And we have an old-fashioned lockbox for cash. AND I can send an invoice to anyone who is uncomfortable with DIY - just send me a message on the number posted in the store. I am happy to help! And yes, myself or a helper is present frequently through the busier times of the week to help check-out and wrap up.
We have videos in the store to maintain the integrity of the experience. I have my number posted for help by the checkout. And as my son's health has improved, we have been able to be up there more consistently to work and refine the experience. And it has been SO FUN getting to enjoy our wonderful customers again with more regularity. Seriously - it is one of the sweetest things to me.
We have survived and grown and learned a lot over the last three years! Honestly, it was the hardest stretch of our life so far, and most of that had nothing with the business getting tanked by COVID lol. I am so grateful for all the Lord has done in our lives throughout this season, though. I feel 20 years more mature than I felt in 2019 lol - and that is never a bad thing in my book. Spiritually I am so much stronger.
I am honored and grateful to be able to continue this experiment in Eureka, and I humbly invite you to come and check it out!