How some small businesses succeeded during the lockdown

Locals attend the J Street Farmers Market in Sacramento in May. Maisey Dillon | Lariat

Tales of perseverance from small business owners during COVID-19

Chandra Stewart started her business, Black Lily Naturals, at the end of 2019 just before COVID-19 shut down the world.

 “I started making hair products in 2013, and then it grew into body butters and candles by 2019,” she said. “And I decided to open for business.”

 Stewart’s business launched in Dec. 2019 but pandemic restrictions halted production after the first mandatory stay-at-home order went into full effect from the months of March to July 2020. Many establishments shut their doors and eventually closed down permanently. Sacramento Midtown Farmers Market was able to stay open during the lockdown. 

Stewart’s business was successful before opening up her own space at the farmer’s market. COVID-19 restrictions allowed her to focus on creating her own website and conducting her sales online.

“I started my business in my kitchen, making stuff for myself and my daughter,” she said. “Then my friends really liked my stuff so it just naturally progressed. So, it wasn’t a very difficult transition.”

Black Lily Naturals wasn’t the only small business to launch just before the pandemic. Beyond CBD began in Dec. of 2019 at the Midtown Farmers Market after the owner, Heather Brady, came home to a garage full of hemp oil – courtesy of her husband. 

“Beyond CBD started as a trade show in the Bay Area in December,” said Ella Evans, an employee of the company. “They weren’t able to open a brick and mortar because of the pandemic which turned out to be a blessing.”

Beyond CBD became wildly successful throughout the pandemic. As a business without a brick and mortar, the farmer’s markets allow Beyond CBD to open trade shows and booths within 28 different venues around town. 

Donco Tolomanoski, of DoncoArt, also started his business selling his pieces in Dec. 2019 at the Midtown Farmers Market. Tolomanoski has been creating art for 14 years and decided to start selling it at pop-up shows and small galleries in 2018. He decided to invest in his business full-time just before the pandemic. 

“I decided in December, before the pandemic,” he said. “I was going to invest in myself, invest in my business and I wanted to make 2020 my year.”

Although it seemed like poor timing to Tolomanoski, after losing his job due to the pandemic, he was thankful that he decided to invest in his business. Shortly after opening up for business at the Midtown Farmers Market full-time, Nordstrom shut down and laid off hundreds of employees, leaving Tolomanoski to find a new job. 

“The Arden Fair Nordstrom shut down completely,” he said. “I basically let everyone go and I was like, well I might as well do this, do the thing I love.” 

After 14 years of making art, has opened up a second booth at the J-street location as well as the Winn Park location. He is now selling at Project 25: an art gallery in the heart of Midtown Sacramento. 

The Midtown Farmers Market Association originally launched in 2013 on a much smaller scale, the thriving open-air Midtown Farmers Market is available year-round on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Throughout the pandemic, the Midtown Association in Sacramento’s urban core was fortunate to be allowed to keep the farmers market open and running without interruption, able to serve the regional community and provide safe, open-air food access – with enhanced cleaning measures and social distancing in place.

Emily Baime Michaels, Executive Director of the Midtown Association manages the farmer’s markets at both the J street location in Midtown Sacramento as well as in Winn Park. COVID-19 turned the farmer’s market into a huge success because of the indoor restrictions.

“In fact, many of the local farmers and growers reported increased sales,” she said. “During the year-long pandemic, more people sought out fresh locally grown and made foods.”

COVID-19 restrictions actually catapulted the Midtown Association into a huge success. The association opened a second/midweek certified farmers market called “Wednesdays at Winn” that debuted in August 2020 and has grown and flourished each passing week. The “Wednesdays at Winn” market takes place in the late afternoon/early evening and has a more relaxed bohemian vibe with a variety of wellness classes in addition to the fresh fruits, vegetables and gourmet and artisan-made goods.