As nonessential businesses throughout Connecticut and elsewhere have been shuttered, many small businesses are struggling. This is the first article in a series looking at how small arts-related businesses are coping and turning to new business models and technology to stay connected with customers.

The very essence of handcraft businesses is creativity so it’s no surprise that in the last few weeks, small business owners are exploring innovative new ways to conduct business and harnessing the power of e-commerce.

Jessica Bittner of Lasting Impressions of Connecticut in New Milford has been making hand-stamped jewelry for six years. Her business is online-based so her business model has not changed much but she is offering promotion codes for first line responders. Customer feedback of late has been quite positive, which she says she appreciates more now than ever. “It’s great to have people responding to my posts and just keeping my website and social media moving. Of course, supporting my small business and others during this time are greatly appreciated whether it be with sales, comments, shares, likes or any love that can be given.”

Christina McManus, founder of Nutmeg & Apple Handmade in Ridgefield, which specializes in unique handmade items from lip balms and lotion sticks to beeswax candle melts and more, has been experiencing difficulties in obtaining supplies and raw materials in the last few weeks due to the coronavirus’s effect on the supply chain. “I am continuing to make my products as my supplies become available, which means having patience and understanding on shipping,” she said. “My clients seem to be appreciative of my ability to produce, pack and ship in a timely manner. They also appreciate that I have not compromised in my ingredient selection, especially during this time when supplies are scarce.”

Besides her online store, she is used to meeting clients face-to-face at craft fairs and farmers markets but nearly all of those are on hiatus. A few farmers’ markets, however, like the Westport Farmers’ Market, have temporarily gone online where people order items online and then make appointments for curbside pickup at the weekly market.

“I have provided my customers with more promotions as well as offering free shipping on many of my items to assist during this difficult time and I always offer free shipping when spending $35 or more,” McManus said. “I have been trying to have promotions/sales at least once a month and will definitely be having another sale before Mother’s Day.” Promotions are announced on her social media channels.

Norwalk’s Évocateur LLC designs and makes artisan gold-leaf jewelry tailor made for 21st Century tastes but with all the style and elegance of the Gilded Age. Founder Barbara Ross-Innamorati said her clients are mostly the wholesale trade. “This shutdown has created opportunities to reach out more frequently to our retailers than we had previously,” she said. “Most all of our retailers are closed now due to the virus, so we find that they have more time to speak to us over the phone when we call them. In a very interesting way, this virus has brought us closer to our customers as we are spending time reaching out to them individually. There is this feeling that ‘we are all in this together’ and people seem more compassionate and caring.”

The business, in turn, is increasingly turning to new ways to reach customers from holding virtual product launches to introduce new items. Évocateur is offering drop shipping directly to customers instead of stores and just launched a new collection, “Keep Calm & Quarantine” that is being sold online and in retailers with a portion of proceeds going to NoKidHungry.org. The organization provides meals to children who are no longer receiving school meals because of the closures.

Nod Hill Soap, which has a boutique in Wilton Center specializing in soaps, skin care products and home fragrances, has been keeping customers updated on its social media, noting it has reduced shop hours but offers curbside pickup for local orders.

As families are spending many hours at home looking for activities to do together, Zoe & Co. Sugarbeads in Ridgefield has been offering bead kits for curbside pickup. Customers can phone in their orders and pick up the beads; these have also been popular for kids’ birthday parties as parents turn to video conferencing programs like Zoom as a way of hosting a virtual party. The New Canaan Toy Store has been posting photos on Facebook of its favorite books and puzzles, suitable for families to spend quality time together with. The store offers personalized shopping via the phone with curbside pickup or free local delivery.

Being creative in their business approaches during a crisis as well as enabling people to explore creativity at home, many small businesses are meeting the challenge to keep their businesses going on during a difficult time.