Nicole Fitzgerald closed the doors to her Hands to Home Crafted store in McHenry four days before Gov. JB Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order requiring nonessential businesses to close in an effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Fitzgerald’s small business centered on making custom wood signs and home decor in groups and parties depended largely on customers walking through the front doors of her brick-and-mortar store on Elm Street.
Unable to host any parties, Fitzgerald knew her business would take a hit financially.
There was no way around it.
“We used to host these big parties and get-togethers; we’d all make the signs together in a large group,” Fitzgerald said. “That was most of my business, really. Obviously, we couldn’t do that anymore.”
Fitzgerald brainstormed ideas to keep her business going, uncertain when she can reopen.
Fitzgerald promoted the purchase of signs and gift cards on social media, encouraged moms and dads to sign up their kids for classes in the spring and summer, and offered $50 gift cards to any party that had to be canceled because of the store's closing.
Still, Fitzgerald knew that wasn't enough.
"There are so many wonderful businesses in this area,” she said. “Just like every business owner, you get nervous. ‘What is going to come from this?’ So, I literally had to pause and say, ‘Where can I go from here?’
One option is to freeze in place. The second option is to pivot and adapt to what is happening in the world right now."
Fitzgerald is doing what many business owners have been forced to do: change and adapt. For Fitzgerald, that meant finding new ways to distribute her product, even if no one is walking into her store and swishing paintbrushes anytime soon.
Fitzgerald now is offering craft kits to go for her signs, starting at $10, complete with a piece of wood, stencil, paint colors and sandpaper. Each kit also comes with step-by-step instructions.
Fitzgerald said response locally has been great so far. She even is receiving interest as far as New York and California. For now, the to-go kits are only available for pickup at the store at 3411 W. Elm St., McHenry.
"I had somebody ask if they can take a kit to go home, so I just kind of offered it, and it’s just flying left and right," Fitzgerald said. "Families are just super excited to have something fun and creative to do with their kids. I'm really just adapting to what my clients are asking for, what they want, and also making it affordable."
Fitzgerald would love to reopen and host big parties again, but she knows that's out of her hands.
"I don’t think it would be helpful to be open right now," Fitzgerald said. "It's not an essential business, but I really do empathize with the struggle of all of these businesses. There are so many good entrepreneurs that have had to do the same thing I’m doing. We’re all just kind of adapting."
Lindsay Schoenherr, owner of Just 4 You Treats in Crystal Lake, is in a similar situation.
A big part of her business relies on classes and other group events. For example, Schoenherr regularly hosts cookie-decorating classes at Muse Art Paint Studio in Crystal Lake. That is not an option for her anymore.
"What used to run our business were our events, and that’s completely stopped," Schoenherr said. "That’s a huge chunk of our business, but we’re grateful right now everyone has allowed us to postpone. Without that, we’d definitely be struggling more."
Schoenherr has had to adjust work shifts for employees. So far, the business has not had to reduce staff.
"All of our shifts have been changed in our bakeries, so now everyone works by themselves," Schoenherr said. "Everyone works separately. This past week, we have not been open to the public at all, but we have been allowing people to make an appointment to order their product and do curbside pickup.
"I have two little kids, so I have been taking the night shift and making sure my employees get paid first."
Schoenherr expects to stay pretty busy with Easter coming up. The business now is offering custom kits for kids and families to make and decorate their own cookies and treats. One of their newest products is an Easter bunny house kit.
Just 4 You Treats also has put together special orders for workers on the front line through the "Project Frontline: McHenry COVID-19 Support" fundraiser that launched earlier this week.
"A lot of our events have been canceled, but we’ve been focusing on trying to create more uplifting and fun products," Schoenherr said. "We make a lot of decorated sugar cookies that have some fun and unique quotes on them."
Just 4 You Treats has been open for 10 years. Schoenherr hopes things return to normal soon.
"I guess I would say I'm worried if this lasts long term," Schoenherr said. "If we’re looking at six months or longer, that definitely would be a huge detriment. We do online sales almost every week, and we have had a strong social media following prior to this.
"I’m pretty confident as soon as the virus is under control things will resume like normal. It’s just a matter of how long that takes."