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Shoppers pop up for Small Business Saturday in Gaston

The Gaston Gazette 11/28/2020 Michael Banks
a group of people standing around a table: Season Mesimer and her daughter, Kaitlyn Mesimer, of Stanley, at right, and Lee Mai, of Rock Hill, S.C., center, look over some of the items for sale at the booth for Lush Boutique, which is owned by Keren Patrick, of Charlotte, at left. Patrick was taking part in the Mount Holly and the Makers Small Business Weekend at the Farmers Market on Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Season Mesimer and her daughter, Kaitlyn Mesimer, of Stanley, at right, and Lee Mai, of Rock Hill, S.C., center, look over some of the items for sale at the booth for Lush Boutique, which is owned by Keren Patrick, of Charlotte, at left. Patrick was taking part in the Mount Holly and the Makers Small Business Weekend at the Farmers Market on Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

This spring, when the coronavirus pandemic hit North Carolina with its full force and many companies closed or handed out layoff notices to their workers, there were some who believed it was the perfect time to start a business.

a group of people wearing costumes: Teasha Hope, of Gastonia, assists Stacey Thomas, left, of Dallas, during the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia. Hope’s business, Hope She Thrifts, was one of 23 vendors showcased in the event that ran from noon to 6 p.m. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Teasha Hope, of Gastonia, assists Stacey Thomas, left, of Dallas, during the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia. Hope’s business, Hope She Thrifts, was one of 23 vendors showcased in the event that ran from noon to 6 p.m. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

That was a prevailing thought expressed often Saturday at two different events in Gaston County devoted to small business retailers.

Overcoming fear

Aly and Karla Gonzalez are sisters-in-law and Gastonia residents. They started their business, Slay All Clay, which specializes in custom clay jewelry, in March soon after social distancing restrictions were put in place with the spread of Covid-19.

a group of people walking down a street next to a building: Shoppers are shown walking along Main Street in Mount Holly on Saturday morning, Nov. 28, 2020, during a Small Business Saturday event geared toward attracting shoppers to the city’s businesses. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Shoppers are shown walking along Main Street in Mount Holly on Saturday morning, Nov. 28, 2020, during a Small Business Saturday event geared toward attracting shoppers to the city’s businesses. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

"I got laid off and she was working from home," said Aly, who was a project coordinator for a hospitality company. "Our family was living in different places but then because of Covid..."

"A lot of us had to move in together," said Karla, who continues to work as a patient coordinator in a doctor's office. "We started it as something to distract us and then we were like 'oh, let's see if we can sell it.'"

a group of people in a room: Erin Stroud wraps a rug for shopper Ellen Wentz, back right, while Justin Silvers prepares a sales receipt during the Mount Holly and the Makers Small Business Weekend at the Farmers Market on Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. Stroud and Silvers, who live in Mount Holly, are co-owners of Stitch and Braid hand-crafted braided rugs. Wentz, of Mount Holly, was shopping at the event along with her husband, Dave. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Erin Stroud wraps a rug for shopper Ellen Wentz, back right, while Justin Silvers prepares a sales receipt during the Mount Holly and the Makers Small Business Weekend at the Farmers Market on Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. Stroud and Silvers, who live in Mount Holly, are co-owners of Stitch and Braid hand-crafted braided rugs. Wentz, of Mount Holly, was shopping at the event along with her husband, Dave. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

They started out selling online and Saturday's Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop at the Hilton Residence Inn in Gastonia was their first pop up event. They admitted to being a little nervous, but also excited.

a person holding a bag of luggage: Margarita Cranke, of Gastonia, is shown in front of her table at the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia. Cranke and her husband, Tarik, organized Saturday’s event meant to showcase small businesses. Cranke has had her business, Aji Blu, since 2007. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Margarita Cranke, of Gastonia, is shown in front of her table at the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia. Cranke and her husband, Tarik, organized Saturday’s event meant to showcase small businesses. Cranke has had her business, Aji Blu, since 2007. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

Nailah Cranke works in the medical field. When Covid-19 struck in the spring, she suddenly found herself with plenty of downtime. So, the 32-year-old single mother started her business, Bert and Geet, that specializes in T-shirts.

"When the pandemic hit, I was like, 'Hey, I should go ahead and step out and do it.' And it's been going pretty well," Cranke said during a break between customers at the Gastonia event.

The toughest part of owning your own business, Cranke said, is "not getting discouraged. One day, I might have one order or two orders."

The most satisfying part?

"That I can actually do it," Cranke said. "At first, there was a lot of fear. I can't do this. But after I launched, it was, 'Ok.' I've gotten more confidence."

Learning experience

Keren Patrick is 30 years old and lives in Charlotte. She began her business, Lush Boutique, in March. She sells women's clothing and accessories at her online store and at pop-up events like Saturday's Small Business Weekend in Mount Holly.

a group of young people standing around a table: Paige Sigmon, center, chair of the Mount Holly Chamber of Commerce, assists 4-year-old Oliver Swilling with placing a stamp on his entry card on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, while his father, Brian Swilling, of Belmont, and Kendle Starcher, left, owner of Catalyst Mercantile in Mount Holly, look on. Catalyst Mercantile and the Mount Holly chamber teamed up for the Mount Holly and the Makers Small Business Weekend at the Farmers Market on Main Street. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Paige Sigmon, center, chair of the Mount Holly Chamber of Commerce, assists 4-year-old Oliver Swilling with placing a stamp on his entry card on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, while his father, Brian Swilling, of Belmont, and Kendle Starcher, left, owner of Catalyst Mercantile in Mount Holly, look on. Catalyst Mercantile and the Mount Holly chamber teamed up for the Mount Holly and the Makers Small Business Weekend at the Farmers Market on Main Street. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

"It's been crazy. I feel like I've learned so much," Patrick said of her first venture into business. "You learn to pivot real quick."

a person standing in a room: Nailah Cranke, of Gastonia, talks with customers at the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia. The name for Cranke’s business, Bert and Geet, is a tribute to her mother and grandmother, Alberta ’Bert’ Hunter and Genell ’Geet’ Cranke. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Nailah Cranke, of Gastonia, talks with customers at the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia. The name for Cranke’s business, Bert and Geet, is a tribute to her mother and grandmother, Alberta ’Bert’ Hunter and Genell ’Geet’ Cranke. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

She said most of her sales come from live events as opposed to online.

Jessica Mai, of Rock Hill, S.C., agreed, as she said she sees 10 times more sales at the live events. Mai also started her business, Cotton and Sage Co. Boutique, in March.

a person sitting at a table: Roxanne Carroll, of York, S.C., speaks with vendor Jessica Mai, left, during the Mount Holly and the Makers Small Business Weekend at the Farmers Market on Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. Carroll, who was shopping with her 15-month-old son, Baker, is a friend of Mai’s and a frequent customer of her business, Cotton and Sage Co. Boutique. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Roxanne Carroll, of York, S.C., speaks with vendor Jessica Mai, left, during the Mount Holly and the Makers Small Business Weekend at the Farmers Market on Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. Carroll, who was shopping with her 15-month-old son, Baker, is a friend of Mai’s and a frequent customer of her business, Cotton and Sage Co. Boutique. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

"I think a lot of us, we had nothing else to do. I'm a full-time nail tech, but obviously can't work now. I started this to bring a little bit of excitement," Mai said.

She sells women's clothing and accessories and is a vendor with Catalyst Mercantile, the Mount Holly store that partnered with the Mount Holly Chamber of Commerce for Saturday's event.

Community support

Kendle Starcher went to school in Mount Holly and lives in her hometown of Alexis. Starcher also opened her business, Catalyst Mercantile, in the spring, in April. She came up with Saturday's promotional idea as part of her first Black Friday as a new business owner.

a group of people sitting at a table: Karla, left, and Aly Gonzalez are shown at the table for their business, Slay All Clay, at the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia. The two sisters-in-law are both from Gastonia and started up their business, which features custom clay jewelry, earlier this year. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Karla, left, and Aly Gonzalez are shown at the table for their business, Slay All Clay, at the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia. The two sisters-in-law are both from Gastonia and started up their business, which features custom clay jewelry, earlier this year. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

"I was like, 'What can we do?' I know it's a pandemic and I know we're all struggling, but if we all banded together, it could be really cool," Starcher said.

More than 20 small business in Mount Holly participated in the Small Business Saturday Blackout Party where customers were encouraged to take a card to each of the participating businesses and receive a stamped entry for a grand prize of more than $1,000.

"I believe people want to support their downtown and see it survive," said Starcher, whose storefront at 117 N. Main St. features a collection of more than 20 local makers and small business owners.

a group of people standing in front of a store: Shoppers and merchants are shown along Main Street in Mount Holly on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, during the Small Business Saturday event geared toward attracting shoppers to the city’s businesses. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette] © Provided by The Gaston Gazette Shoppers and merchants are shown along Main Street in Mount Holly on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, during the Small Business Saturday event geared toward attracting shoppers to the city’s businesses. [Michael Banks/The Gaston Gazette]

Justin Silvers and Erin Stroud are Mount Holly residents and co-owners of Stitch and Braid, a business specializing in hand-crafted braided rugs. Stroud, who is a fourth-generation rug maker, said business today is different than when her great-grandparents were traveling to different states, selling their wares at craft shows.

"It's the uncertainty of everything," she said. "At the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was not spending unnecessarily, they weren't worrying about how their house looked. But that's kind of changed as people got a little more comfortable and realized the world's not ending."

Power of small business

Paige Sigmon, chair of the Mount Holly Chamber of Commerce, said the city's downtown is thriving. She estimates more than half of the chamber's membership is made up of small businesses.

"The growth we've seen in Mount Holly has been awesome in the four years I've been here," said Sigmon, who is a chiropractor and owner of Carolina Family Spine Center in Mount Holly.

She felt Saturday's event is an example of what makes Mount Holly special as a community.

"It's not just big corporations. It's small businesses working together for no better reason than the betterment of the community and economic development," Sigmon said. "There's a spirit there that I believe makes people drawn to Mount Holly."

Tarik Cranke, who organized the Holiday Sip and Shop Pop Up Shop in Gastonia, comes from a family of business people. His father owned an art gallery at one time and his father-in-law operated a repair shop.

"We've always fed in to having a business for yourself," said Cranke, a Gastonia resident who owns his own marketing company. He and his wife, Margarita Cranke, teamed up for the event.

Margarita has operated her own business, Aji Blu, since 2007. It specializes in handmade accessories and skin care. Prior to Covid, she'd take part in about 10 live events each year. She loves the freedom and flexibility of being the owner of a small business.

Customers support small businesses

The mother-and-daughter duo of Seasan and Kaitlyn Masimer are fans of small businesses. The Stanley residents were shopping in Mount Holly on Saturday.

"I just think you get more variety and specialized gifts," Seasan said.

Roxanne Carroll, of York, S.C., who was shopping Saturday with her 15-month-old son, Baker, also prefer to shop in person.

"I like to have the ability to see stuff, feel the quality of it. It's just a nice thing to do," Carroll said.

Stacey Thomas, of Dallas, is a frequent customer of Hope She Thrifts, a business specializing in vintage and second-hand women's clothing and owned by Teasha Hope of Gastonia. She is a supporter of small businesses and was in attendance at the Gastonia Sip and Shop.

"During this pandemic everybody has been affected and this is a way for us to help them financially," Thomas said. "This is a great way for us to come out and support them."

You can reach Michael Banks at 704-869-1842, email mbanks@gastongazette.com and follow on Twitter @MichaelBanksNC.

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