Like many craft stores, Who Gives a SCRAP was a neighborhood gathering place at its location on Colorado Avenue just west of downtown Colorado Springs.
In November, the store, which sells recycled arts and crafts supplies, moved to a new location at 810 Arcturus Drive.
That was just one of the changes owner Lorrie Myers coped with during the pandemic. Although Myers was forced to move, the new site turned out to be an advantage. Now Myers has more room to process the donations that stock the store, more floor space to allow more customers to come in, and more room to rent to artists and craft teachers.
Most local craft stores have seen their sales increase or remain steady during the pandemic.
“People are buying stuff like crazy,” Myers said. “It’s not just that they’re crafting more; they’re crafting with a purpose — something they can sell or give as a personal gift.”
Crafting has seen renewed popularity not just because people were staying at home and needed to find ways to keep their kids entertained, but also because handicrafts have helped people cope with the additional stress the past year has brought.
People are exploring new craft areas, like quilting, and are picking back up on the ones they’ve done before, Myers said.
“They’re doing handcrafted items, and not just because it’s less expensive,” she said. “It gives that personal touch, and people are missing friends and family.”
Most have fared well because of loyal customer bases and creative pivoting. And they are starting to resume their traditional role as places where people can share their love of making things.
SURVIVING TOUGH TIMES
When Myers had to close Who Gives a SCRAP in late March last year, she was worried about keeping her three employees working[see below] and that the volunteers who help sort donations would miss their only social outlet.
A Paycheck Protection Program loan bolstered salaries, and Myers put employees to work making kits for sale. Although the store did not have an online outlet, it provided curbside shopping and delivery to customers who called in advance.
The store had built a strong base of customers, including many teachers, and Myers knew their needs and preferences.
“We would bring products out on trays for them to look at and make their decisions,” Myers said.
While the Colorado Springs store got by during the tough months, Who Gives a SCRAP’s Fort Collins store did not survive.
Once the Springs store reopened in May, business picked up — but because of limited floor space, Myers could allow only a few customers to come in at a time.
Myers built up phone orders and pickups through outreach on social media, including a weekly live event on Facebook showcasing new products and project ideas, and live auctions on Instagram. Discounts for teachers, seniors, military and first responders brought in customers.
A few months after reopening, Myers learned that the parking lot next to the Colorado Avenue store had been sold and was going to be the site for a four-story apartment building. She found a new site — a 12,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Spectrum Physical Therapy.
The day after Thanksgiving, Who Gives a SCRAP left its 3,000-square-foot quarters on Colorado Avenue and moved into the space on Arcturus off Eighth Street.
The new facility has a large classroom with plenty of space for distancing, and Myers installed a HEPA air filtration system that recycles the air every 30 minutes.
She’s now able to bring in more customers to browse the store’s stock, and is starting to rent the classroom to artists and crafts experts who want to teach classes.
Small spaces that formerly were therapy rooms have been converted into artist studios that rent for $100 a month.
Donations have soared in the past few months, Myers said.
“In a normal month, we take in about 4,000 pounds,” she said. “Now we’re over 9,000 pounds consistently.”
Merchandise sits isolated in a special COVID-19 bay for several days before it gets processed.
Myers said Who Gives a SCRAP [still?] has three full-time employees making a living wage, and she’s happy that the business continues to make a difference — its social impact mission is to divert materials from landfills.
As COVID-19 restrictions loosen, she looks forward to expanding its role as a community center.
Simple Pleasures, a northeast Colorado Springs store that sells rubber stamps, scrapbooking supplies and mixed media art supplies, also faced challenges in the past year but has managed not only to survive but to expand its customer base.
“When people are doing this type of crafting, they’re doing something for somebody else,” owner Cathy Smith said. “It makes people feel closer to each other.”
The store had a strong social gathering component before the pandemic, as people got together for classes and to work on their scrapbook or cardmaking projects in the store’s workroom.
“We’ve had to get more creative,” Smith said. “We’ve expanded our customer base through the use of social media, and we are shipping out orders far more than we ever have. We’ve been doing what we call kits to go, and we’ve been doing a weekly Facebook Live event.”
During the live events, Smith presents a project, and crafters can order merchandise in the comments.
“In some ways, it’s a more personal experience than an online store,” she said.
Smith still offers mail order delivery and curbside pickup, but shoppers now can enter the store if they’re masked and stay distanced. Smith also requires customers to wear gloves, which she provides if shoppers don’t have them.
“We have a sign on the door that if they don’t have gloves, we would really appreciate if they could donate $1 to TESSA,” she said.
The store’s sales volume has increased since it reopened after the initial closure, and January-March is up from October-December. Sales of cardmaking supplies have been huge, she said.
Next month, Smith plans to try a dedicated time when a small group of people can come together to work on their projects. She’s also planning to offer a cardmaking class. “We’re taking baby steps,” she said.
Ewe and Me, a northwest Colorado Springs boutique store that sells yarn and knitting and crochet supplies, did not have a pre-pandemic online store.
“Gary, my husband, out of necessity, became an expert in web sales,” owner Debbie Golucke said.
The online store is still a work in progress, she said, but it offers the most popular yarns the store sells, and orders are coming from throughout the country.
Golucke said she buys merchandise internationally and has experienced supply issues — especially with deliveries from some South American countries where the store buys yarn.
“In Uruguay and Peru, at first their workers were precluded from going in to work,” she said. “People can now go into their workplaces, but there is a backlog and there’s not a way to get it to the States.”
That has meant finding alternative suppliers, but Golucke said she has a personal relationship with the family in Montevideo that owns Malabrigo Yarns, one of the store’s biggest suppliers.
She is able to preorder items from Malabrigo and other suppliers, who will let her know when shipments can be arranged.
Golucke estimated that sales took about a 25 percent hit in 2020, but the store obtained a small PPP loan and continued to pay its three employees to manage inventory, keep up the store and teach private lessons.
“We are on the cusp of needing to hire some more employees,” Golucke said.
In-store sales at Silver Sparrow Beads in Old Colorado City have stayed fairly steady, owner Michele Underwood said, but she’s seen a big increase in her wholesale jewelry line.
Underwood does not have an online store but works for a California rep group that takes orders for finished pieces for boutiques, natural food stores and resorts. Underwood processes and ships the orders.
“We design what we think might be trending for the upcoming season,” she said.
The wholesale business has increased so much that Underwood has added three contractors to help produce the pieces.
“When we started, there was just three of us,” she said.
She also has a few part-time employees at the store, where foot traffic has started to pick up.
Underwood said the ability to pivot and strategize has gotten her through the pandemic.
“If things aren’t going well, you really have to be able to look at the big picture of where you want to be two years down the road and start taking steps to get there, and be creative in your thinking on different ways to draw income,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just not within your store; you can do it in other ways.”