A few months ago, Ace Rhoad lost his job, a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. He tried to occupy his time, but quickly grew tired of watching Netflix. He’s not a fan of sitting still for long.
Besides, all the bad news—the pandemic, political polarization, the recent deaths of Black men and women and the subsequent conflict—were getting to him.
“Everything was so depressing,” Rhoad said. “When I cook, I don’t have to deal with that.”
Although he was a salesman by trade, Rhoad was a chef at heart. With all the extra time on his hands, he could get back to what he loved.
He invested in a meat smoker and set up shop in his backyard in Harrisburg, cooking for neighbors and friends for fun. He served up ribs, chicken, pulled pork, pit beef and a slew of cookout favorites.
“You could smell it everywhere—the whole neighborhood,” he said. “People were coming out and wanted to know what was going on.”
His backyard barbecue got so big, Rhoad decided to put it on wheels and feed the masses in perfect COVID-19 style—out of a food truck. Smoking Ace’s BBQ was born.
“It blew up more than I thought it would,” he said. “It brought people together.”
Pets & Plants
During the pandemic, we’ve heard of businesses reducing capacity and temporarily or permanently closing. Rarely are there stories of businesses starting and growing because of the pandemic. But, just like Rhoad’s, they are there, blooming from a crack in the concrete—some quite literally.
“The houseplant business has blown up since COVID,” said Hannah Witwer, co-founder of The Vintage Vine HBG.
Witwer met Amie Ennist on Instagram after both had started accounts to post about life with pets and plants in Harrisburg. Over a glass of champagne, they decided to join forces and start a plant business.
Within a month, the pair held their first pop-up plant sale in front of Ennist’s home on Green and Kelker streets in Midtown. They set up tables of vintage vases full of green clippings and potted plants. Within a few hours, they were sold out.
“When we had our first sale, we didn’t know what it was going to be like,” Ennist said. “But people want their plants.”
The houseplant trend has been growing over the past few years, especially amongst millennials, reported Garden Center Magazine. According to the National Gardening Association, millennials were responsible for 31% of houseplant sales in 2018. During the coronavirus crisis, the Washington Post found that even more people have been purchasing plants.
Witwer and Ennist have noticed the same trend.
“People are saying how their mental health has taken a toll during COVID,” Witwer said. “They say tending to plants and having new life in their apartments really helps. It helps me, too.”
Since The Vintage Vine’s first sale, they have held another at Rubicon, a restaurant in downtown Harrisburg. That time, they almost sold out within the first half hour.
“We are doing this to have fun, and we hope it never stops being fun,” Witwer said.
Work Her Magic
For some businesses, the coronavirus crisis gifted them with time—enough to get a dream off the ground. For other people, the pandemic gave them a problem for which, with innovation, they would find a solution, and subsequently, a business.
The Vintage Vine’s second pop-up shop was hosted by Jovana Sarver, a local artist who has also found a way to capitalize on the CDC’s guidelines. She started making facemasks.
Sarver had a lot of scrap fabric lying around from a T-shirt line she created for Little Amps. She and her friend, Hanniel Sindelar, decided they would make use of the fabric by making masks to sell and raise funds for the Young Professionals of Color—Greater Harrisburg.
“It felt tedious in the beginning,” Sarver said. “But they were selling fast, so we kept making them.”
After the fundraiser, she continued making masks and selling them. Now she has made and sold over 100.
But these aren’t just any old masks. Each one is a unique work of art.
Through an “ice dyeing” method, Sarver creates a swirl of colors on each mask—think tie-dye meets watercolor.
“I’ve always been interested in clothing as more than clothing,” she said. “I love that it is an art piece that people can wear.”
Seeing the success of her masks, Sarver has been dyeing clothes now, as well. People send her their white shirts, pants and dresses to work her magic on.
Making masks has pushed her art in a new direction. Sarver plans to take it from a side hustle to more of a full-time business.
“I feel more confident,” she said. “I’m fully committed to making this work.”
Savon Poole is another entrepreneur committed to growing her business after newfound success through the pandemic.
She is the founder of Moving Handz LLC, a grocery delivery service for seniors in the Harrisburg area.
When Poole’s grandmother was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, she and her family spent a lot of time shopping and caring for her. This, she said, took away valuable time they could’ve spent with her.
“I felt like, why not start a grocery delivery service to fill that time gap?” Poole said.
Although Moving Handz was formed in February, it really picked up as the COVID-19 crisis hit, putting seniors most at risk.
Poole helps clients select groceries, shops for them and delivers to their homes. Customers can pay to receive a monthly service or pay by delivery.
As her business grew during the pandemic, Poole started to dream about what the next step may be. She hopes to partner with Medicaid, Medicare and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.
“People really like this, and they say this is a service that is needed,” she said.
While the pandemic helped kick-start some of these local businesses, not one of the owners wishes the crisis was part of our current reality. They are, however, grateful that some good has arisen amidst so much bad.
“I guess this is the silver lining,” Sarver said. “You can really stop and focus on what matters to you.”
Smoking Ace’s BBQ is located outside of Boscov’s at the Colonial Park Mall, 4600 Johnstown Rd., Harrisburg. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
The Vintage Vine HBG will be at La Cultura, 214 Verbeke St., Harrisburg, on Nov. 21. For more information, visit their Instagram page (@thevintagevinehbg).
To purchase a facemask from Jovana Sarver, contact her through Instagram (@dirt.petal).
For more information on Moving Handz LLC, visit their Facebook page or call 717-425-4509.
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