SKANEATELES — During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic last holiday season, Skaneateles Artisans owner Teresa Vitale found herself in a similar position to many other retail brick-and-mortar business owners.
Revenue was waning due to a lack of customers who were appropriately social distancing at home and either reducing their purchasing or relying on e-commerce outlets.
Vitale never thought her creative necessity at that time would become a new line of business. But fact is, she moved well past pivoting, and has evolved, all the while managing to not only keep Skaneateles Artisans in operation, but also start a new business line called “Tinsel Town Arts by Teresa Vitale.”
Tinsel Town Arts is a new line of custom-decoration services that grew out of Teresa’s storefront decorations at Skaneateles Artisans. She designed and built a display of colorful and whimsical Christmas-present packages stacked on top of each other and framing the front-door entrance of her shop on the ground floor of the historic Old Stone Mill at 3 Fennell St. in the village of Skaneateles.
This story doesn’t quickly end here though, as evidenced by an event which would challenge her spirit. A young man recklessly drove a vehicle through the village and crashed into the display, destroying most of it.
Vitale acknowledges that “the gallery was not financially prepared for the challenges of being closed during the COVID shutdown.” She reached out to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Onondaga Community College and me for help navigating the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) applications in March 2020.
Over a series of conversations and advising sessions, Teresa was able to successfully apply for and receive both assistance packages — the EIDL loan from the Small Business Administration, and the PPP reimbursable loan from M&T Bank. Vitale kept the business operating with 110 artists’ work on display for sale on commission and emerged with her best sales totals for the month of May in the 14-year history of her business.
“The SBDC and Mr. Cetera helped in the survival of Skaneateles Artisans. I would not have made it through COVID shutdown, without Mr. Cetera’s guidance,” Vitale said.
Once Teresa had stabilized the Skaneateles Artisans gallery with SBDC advising and coaching, during the slow business time of the pandemic, and coupled with the driving-accident incident, she recognized that she had been “given the opportunity of not only being able to start a new business, but also having a preexisting location where she can sell the art, making it all seem very possible and real.” Over the years, visitors to the gallery have always wanted to purchase the gift boxes that she created around the gallery — and now they can.
“Tinsel Town Arts by Teresa Vitale” began as a collection of beautiful handmade garlands, wreaths, and decorative boxes stacked like topiary. Materials used for the decoration are designed to withstand the exterior elements and can be enjoyed for years to come.
During a site visit to the gallery store, the energy and enthusiasm that Teresa exhibited was palpable. One customer shared her thoughts that the visit “was so fun” as she walked out with a colorful glass platter carefully packaged for the return leg of a motorcycle road trip between Arkansas and Acadia National Park in Maine, demonstrating how much of a destination Skaneateles Artisans is itself within the destination village of Skaneateles.
Teresa is continuing to work closely with her SBDC advisor to navigate financing and funding programs for the Skaneateles Artisans gallery, all the while making lemonade out of lemons and not letting the spirit-crushing damage to her storefront display keep her down. With smiling faces visible from the freedom of masks, vaccinated against COVID, Teresa received some new pieces of woodwork from one of the artisans on display and greeted patrons, both new and old.
Advisor’s business tip: The COVID pandemic made sure everyone in the business world was acutely aware that change is inevitable. Consider your strategy for staying aware of, and implementing change, on pace rather than being late. Now that the e-commerce and remote-work genies are out of the bottle, and are being implemented regularly, what’s next? Read online business blogs, join industry associations, have frequent conversations with your business advisors, and make the commitment to objectively evaluate your business on the regular.
Frank Cetera is an advanced certified business advisor at the SBDC located at Onondaga Community College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org