It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a number of people taking up new hobbies and activities. A study published by Ware2Go in May 2020 showed that 87% of Americans were taking up new activities, and those results continued as the pandemic progressed, with another study by the LendingTree in February 2021 finding that 59% of Americans took on a new hobby.
The interesting thing that these studies found, however, is many of these hobbies turned into money-making side hustles—or even new full time jobs.
Here are just a few local businesses that got their starts amidst a global pandemic.
Cords by Ashley
Ashley Guzman, a stay-at-home mom of Scottsbluff, decided to use her free time during the lockdown to do what so many others were doing — a pandemic project. She knew the bed in her bedroom didn’t have a headboard, so she decided she would macramé one.
She hadn’t done anything like it before, but she always considered herself to be a crafty person, so she thought she’d give it a try.
“I think I was on Pinterest, and I’m like, ‘Gosh, these are beautiful. I know I could do it,’” she said. “…Once I started and made something, it was relaxing. Being able to stand there and just — it’s repetitive work, and so your mind can wander and the stress just kind of goes away. … But I feel like it just, the passion for it just connected.”
She decided to do another hanging piece for a friend as a housewarming gift. She was pleased with how it turned out and posted it to Facebook, where she began to get inquiries.
“My sister-in-law that owns the mercantile in Bayard, she saw it, and she texts me, and she’s like, ‘Can you make more?’” Guzman said. “…Then we started talking wholesale orders and stuff like that, and so she was my first big purchase.”
Her sister-in-law kept pushing Guzman to do more with her work — turn it into a business, bring it to craft shows, start selling online. The business blossomed.
“(My first craft show) was an experience I’ll never forget,” she said. “I showed up late. I was still setting up when the VIP people were showing up to shop, and it was just crazy. I did really well, and I loved it. And I was like, this is this is it. This is what I’m going to be doing.”
Now, while Guzman still picks up some waitressing shifts here and there, she considers her macramé her main job, with the business fully funding itself.
Krystal Patterson, of Torrington, had been wanting to start a business doing beadwork since she first learned how to do it in junior high as a part of the Lakota class she took while living on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
“I learned how to do that in school and the love for it just continued,” she said. “I always told myself one day that I would want to start a business doing beadwork, doing different kinds of beadwork, offering people affordable, beaded jewelry, and making it possible for everybody to have something customized, and within their price range.”
However, it was really just a hobby she could only pick up from time to time, in between all the life events of schooling, marriage and children. It was difficult for her to find time to fully dedicate to her craft.
Then the pandemic hit.
“I finally said, ‘OK, I’m going to take advantage of this time and actually go for it, take that jump, take that next step,’” Patterson said.
It was a bit of a rocky start at first, but once the 2020 holiday season came around, her business really started to take off.
“That was kind of the kickoff of holiday season. People are wanting jewelry to put in stocking stuffers and wanting lanyards for their teacher friends or family,” she said. “…Once I finally got that name out there during that first holiday season through the pandemic, then it really started to take off.”
Then as the community began to open up she started hitting up farmers markets, craft fairs and vendor shows all over the WyoBraska area. She said there are still months that are not quite as busy as others, but it pretty much is her full time job now.
Stephanie Burton, of Scottsbluff, received a sewing machine for her birthday during the pandemic. She hadn’t always been a particularly crafty person, but she does enjoy serving others in whatever way she can.
Turned out, one way she could was by providing pain relief through her sewing.
“I haven’t always had a heart for crafting, but I have definitely always had a heart for helping others,” she said. “…One of the first things I made was a rice pack. Little did I know, this would be the birth of my business.”
Burton started by giving her microwaveable and freezable rice packs to friends and family. As she realized how many people could find her product useful, she began to sell the packs at craft shows and vendor fairs. She uses various fun-patterned fabrics and even adds soothing scents for ultimate relaxation.
“I have had countless people in the community find relief from the aches and pains COVID-19 has brought them with the rice packs I’ve made, and in some cases, donated to families in need while suffering from this pandemic,” she said. “I’m so glad that my passion has put smiles on the faces of my community and has been of relief to those who are struggling during these times.”
Without the pandemic
There was a consensus among these businesses that without the pandemic, their business probably wouldn’t be where they are today. Some wouldn’t have found the following and taken off the way they did.
“I think eventually it would have been something,” Guzman of Cords by Ashley, said. “But to be honest, because everybody really got into houseplants. … because at the beginning, I did sell a lot of plant hangers, and I honestly contribute that to, for whatever reason, everybody got into house plants during the pandemic.”
Some of them probably wouldn’t have even started at all.
“I really think it helped me, because if I wouldn’t have had the pandemic and the ‘you need to stay home and you can’t go anywhere,’ if I if I didn’t have that, if I didn’t have those restrictions, then I don’t think I would have really put forth my full effort,” Patterson, of KatoCreations, said. “I think it still would have just continued to be a ‘I’m just going to do this for friends and family. I’m just going to do it as a hobby when I feel like it.’ So, I think it gave me that push.”
Watch for more local businesses that started during the pandemic being highlighted in the upcoming issue of the Star-Herald’s Hometowns.