Iowa City small business owners shift to online platforms as the pandemic continues

Iowa-based artists and owners of small businesses have adapted to sell their hand-made products during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Ayrton Breckenridge

In this diptych Jazsmine VanPelt (left) and Erica Gooding (right) pose for a portrait. VanPelt is a University of Iowa freshman and owner of The Grove Village. Gooding is the owner of Artisan Jewelry.

Sabine Martin, News Reporter

Full of nerves, University of Iowa freshman Jazsmine VanPelt woke up at 6 a.m. last Friday. They immediately checked their sales after launching their small business online the night before. VanPelt was shocked to see over a dozen orders from across the country – and even as far away as Sudan, they said.

“I was super nervous, but you always have to have enough faith in yourself,” VanPelt said. “It is super exciting because my art is about to be hanging out in other people’s homes and it will be all over the United States.”

VanPelt is one of many Iowa City artists who have continued to run small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their business, The Grove Village, sells Van Pelt’s original art prints, pins, and stickers.

Growing up in Iowa City, VanPelt said they have been inspired by artists that they met throughout high school. VanPelt said they have worked for years to find their personal art style. VanPelt’s art is inspired by nature and includes symbols of mushrooms and other mythical creatures.

“I have seen so many extremely talented artists who come and go from Iowa City,” they said.

Products from The Grove Village sit on a table in the Old Capitol Town Center on March 2. The owner of The Grove Village and University of Iowa Freshman, Jazsmine VanPelt, said, “I want to share my art with people and it’s kind of fun.” (Ayrton Breckenridge)

As a full-time student, VanPelt independently runs their business online by packaging and shipping all orders from their parent’s Iowa City home.

“Other than selling art and being a student, I also have a job outside of selling art, so it definitely can get hard to manage time with all of that,” VanPelt said.

VanPelt said other than their online shop, Twitter and other social media platforms are helpful to advertise their artwork during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Social media has been a big influence for my business sales. A lot of my purchases and people who support me are from social media,” VanPelt said

Another artist, Erica Gooding, who also grew up in Iowa City, has owned her small jewelry business for the last 12 years.

Other than jewelry making, Gooding said she works with COVID-19 patients several days a week as a nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

“I had someone see something I was wearing and they suggested that I try to get into a little craft show,” Gooding said. “I thought, ‘Why not?’, so I applied and got in.”

The motto of Gooding’s business, Artisan Jewelry by Erica Gooding, is “handmade with love and a blow torch.” Gooding said she makes jewelry out of raw materials and uses techniques to manipulate the appearance of them.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Gooding said she has made her store website more accessible for shopping online and promotes her products on social media. Gooding

Products from Artisan Jewelry sit on a table in the Old Capitol Town Center on March 2. The owner of Artisan Jewelry, Erica Gooding, said, “I’m really excited to get back out to the summer art festivals.” (Ayrton Breckenridge)

normally sells her jewelry at art shows, but she said many were canceled or hosted online this year.

“There is really no way to compare doing a live event with vending at an online event,” Gooding said. “At a show, people go there to support artists and to purchase things. I think for everyone who makes handmade products, online is more difficult.”

Gooding said independently running a small business calls for a strong support system.

“I think anyone who is wanting to start their own business will have to consider where they can get help from, because it is hard to do it alone,” Gooding said. “I have met some really amazing small business owners who are a tribe of support for me.”

Small business owner Julie Chapman said she has also had to refrain from art shows to sell her artwork. Chapman grew up in Iowa City, and her card business, Sweet Julie Marie, includes Iowa-inspired illustrations and whimsical calligraphy.

Chapman said she looks forward to continuing to attend art shows after COVID-19.

“I hope to continue growing and to sell my work at shops and boutiques once things have opened up,” she said. “I am ready to get back into it for my own fun and goals.”

In January 2020, the U.S. Small Business Administration issued a disaster declaration in Iowa up until the end of last year. The declaration granted small businesses that were impacted by the pandemic to apply for low-interest loans.

Supporting a small business helps support a dream, Chapman said.

“If it’s a handmade item, that person is putting their time and efforts into their business,” Chapman said. “You can feel good knowing the money you spend goes right back into the community.”

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