The COVID-19 crisis switched strolling through stores to scrolling online.
Not that people hadn’t been doing that already—I mean, they’re making drones to deliver packages. But this time, online shopping wasn’t so much an act of laziness as it was necessity.
Amazon lives off the e-commerce model, eating up consumers’ money and spitting out mass-produced goods wrapped in cardboard. But most small businesses take smaller bites.
Kat Dreibelbis has always made art. Art you can hold and admire. Her drawings and paintings come from a place of whimsy, surrealism. In one watercolor, a cat wears eyeglasses; in another, a trumpet sprouts a flower. In 2012, she began selling her work under the name Black Kat Luck and took it to festivals and markets.
Selling her art online isn’t something Dreibelbis is overly invested in. She’s partial to the in-person experience of buying and selling. This is why she has always loved the HBG Flea Market and why its temporary closing has been so hard for her.
“Not having that has hit home of how much we invest in the flea community,” Dreibelbis said.
When Meghan Weaver and Mary Imgrund started the HBG Flea, they had one goal—support local artists.
Over the past few months, tables that usually held handspun pottery, sweet smelling soaps and delicately crafted jewelry sat folded up in storage. Strawberry Square saw no crowds looking for a one-of a-kind find, and Midtown Cinema’s parking lot sat empty, as well.
The COVID-19 crisis may have put the physical market on hold, but that didn’t stop Weaver and Imgrund from fulfilling their mission.
“We had to do something to support the small businesses,” Imgrund said. “For many artists, that is a primary source of income.”
Knowing small businesses took a hard hit in the crisis, Imgrund and Weaver wanted to provide free assistance to their vendors
The pair set up the “Creative Outlet,” an online listing of their vendors. This would give the artists and small business owners a chance to sell and customers a way to buy. Over 60 local makers are available to peruse.
“It just feels like a different form of the same mission,” Weaver said. “It was a natural extension for us.”
Eight years ago, Amanda Burg started making jewelry. With raw crystals and mixed metal, she crafts unique Bohemian style rings, necklaces and earrings. It began as a hobby, but Burg soon realized it was more than that. She opened a shop, Amanda Leilani Designs, on Etsy and set up booths at markets.
“The HBG Flea is actually the first market I did, so they hold a special place in my heart,” Burg said.
While Burg already had an established online presence, the market is a source of business she counted on. Each month, she set up shop at the HBG Flea.
“For a lot of people, myself included, it’s their livelihood,” she said.
Fortunately, Burg saw an increase in her online sales in April and May. She attributed that to the fact that people had no option but to shop for many products online. Burg also mentioned that the Creative Outlet helped drive customers to her site.
“To be able to support artists in a time like this is so important,” she said.
While the business of the market provides for artists, it’s the community aspect they miss the most.
“I miss my vendor community so much,” Burg said. “I miss seeing everyone each month.”
Dreibelbis has felt encouraged by having regular flea-goers reach out to check in on her.
“It’s really lovely to hear from them,” she said. “They’re rooting for the business.”
The re-opening of the HBG Flea in person is scheduled for July 11 in the Midtown Cinema parking lot. Weaver and Imgrund said the capacity will be limited and social distancing and wearing masks will be required.
Both Burg and Dreibelbis are hopeful that people will continue supporting local businesses, no matter what format that takes.
“It all comes back to building the community that you want to exist in,” Dreibelbis said.
For more information on the HBG Flea or to shop from its vendors, including Black Kat Luck and Amanda Leilani Designs, visit www.hbgflea.com.