Becky Mayhew

Becky Mayhew operates The Art Shoppe in Houston.

Editor’s note: This is a weekly series focusing on the importance of buying local.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of businesses with shelter-in-place orders in March, it was tough for anyone to paint a pretty picture.

But some local artists found a way to brighten the days of their students and patrons with some creative thinking and open minds.

Becky Mayhew, owner of The Art Shoppe located on 10 North Cherry Avenue in Houston, said she decided to change course and operate her business in a way she thought about for sometime, but never acted upon.

Mayhew, an accomplished artist herself, typically catered her lessons to school-aged kids from grades one through 12 and to adults, including senior citizens and those in nursing homes.

She teaches students how to draw, paint with water colors or oil, and create cartoons, among other things.

With face-to-face teaching and learning not possible, she said she “had some decisions to make.”

“We had just moved into our second session, each session is seven weeks,” Mayhew said. “People had come for three weeks. I still owed them four weeks. They pay in advance for a session.

“People had been asking me to produce my classes on video. So I started video taping myself and taught the next four classes.”

Mayhew fortunately knew a couple of people who could help her with editing and producing the videos. It wasn’t an easy transition, but one that worked out well for the business.

“The (pandemic) catapulted me into doing something that I thought about doing and wanted to do,” Mayhew said. “Ninety percent of my personal income is from my art studio.

“I was scared. This forced me to look at my website. I began to understand why I wasn’t selling anything on it. I wasn’t set up to do it.”

Mayhew took classes to improve the site and make it capable of selling her art online. Her attitude and motivation changed.

“I had the online store for two years and never sold anything,” she said. “I just figured people didn’t like my art. Then I found out, I wasn’t setup for it.

“I redid the website. I pay more attention to marketing and public relations. I’ve taken online classes to learn more about it. It has worked out well. People like the videos. As bad as things were, it forced me into action and I think my business will be better for it.”

Debra Bracco has owned Fired Up Pottery Studio for eight years. The business is located in Peters Township.

The change in operating her business was immediate when she was forced to close.

“I had to pivot from the traditional walk in, sit down and work your heart out way we operated, Bracco said. “We got approval to go curbside.

“I turned to online, e-commerce. Customers were looking and shopping in the middle of the night.”

Bracco was forced to cancel summer camps, one of the big components of her business. She said she decided to provide “Camp in a Bag” for those who wanted to pick them up and hold camp in their homes for this year.

“It provided them a bunch of projects, a snack,” she said. “You can’t have a camp without a snack.”

Bracco also moved to sales on Facebook Live.

“I’m hearing so much that people are so sick of Zoom right now, we backed off classes through that for now,” she said. “We’re not going through with that.”

Bracco happily reported more sales via curbside and said sales continue to be strong through the second quarter.

“My first quarter (sales) were up 19%,” she said. “We’re so excited about the camp in a bag. I felt we needed something like that. For years, I thought about allowing people to sign up for classes online.

“You can teach an old dog new tricks.”

April Ryan Fine Art is located in downtown Washington.

She curates her Thistledown Boutique.

Ryan has been a business owner, designer, artist and purveyor of all things for more than 30 years. Her boutique, Thistledown Home and Art, is a multifaceted space.

Its functions include, home decor, art, antiques and gift shop. The business also holds paint parties, art classes, events and workshops, and includes a gallery for Ryan’s fine art.

The pandemic has changed the course of the business.

“We’ve had our Friday night events and Whiskey Rebellion canceled in the city,” Ryan said. “People probably prefer the one-on-one instruction. My business has been mainly retail. But it is diverse, maybe too diverse. I want to get into more of online teaching.

“We do a lot of workshops and step-by-step painting. We had (customers) pick work up at the shop and we gave them links to Facebook and You Tube.

“We’d like to do more (online), but we’ve been so busy with the retail. I need to get someone to help us in that area.”

Those interested in joining the Be Local Network can contact Chris Slota at 724-225-1326 or by email at chris@belocal.net. Discount cards are available at the Observer-Reporter and Almanac office, 122 S. Main St., Washington.

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