CAPE CORAL, Fla — As soon as you walk into AR Workshop in Cape Coral, you get a sense of what it must be like on a normal Saturday night. There must be sounds of people laughing and working, as they sit around tables building home decor out of raw materials.
But there hasn't been a normal Saturday night in weeks.
"Like any other small business, we're trying to be creative," Lori Van Rassel says, "until we can get back up and running when this blows over."
Van Rassel quit her corporate job last year, to start this business. We're telling her story as part of a special series of stories called "We're Open Southwest Florida," where we spotlight locally owned businesses that are having to adjust what they do and innovate, because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
"We do bachelorette parties, we do birthday parties, we do team building, corporate events," Van Rassel says. "Date night is a big night for us."
Unfortunately, the pandemic canceled date night and just about every other group activity. Van Rassel can't have people in her store anymore, so she has to do something else.
"We have a unique item that we can offer people," she says.
So she came up with a unique idea for this unique time. She began selling kits for custom signs that customers can order on-line, pick up at the store and take home. It's like what she does in-store. Customers choose a design and paint color. Then they sand and prime the wood signs, before painting over a stencil. Van Rassel says she priced the kits so just about anyone can afford it. The least expensive package is three signs for $25.
"We know that families right now are having a difficult time being quarantined and staying at home and trying to find things to do, so we wanted to give them something fun to do together as a family and to have something they can keep and remember," she says.
Van Rassel says she's adapting her business and she will have to keep innovating to make sure it survives. But she says she also knows she's not alone. So many other small business owners are having to be creative right now too.
"Reach out to your other small business owners and see what you can do for them," Van Rassel says. "See if there's any collaboration you can do together, to try to get us through this difficult time."
"There's a lot of businesses that are probably not going to make it and that's a sad thing to say and we want to try to help each other. Just remember, you're not alone."