Elizabethtown small businesses made it through the pandemic, and many of them say that wouldn’t have happened if not for the collaboration among owners and support of the community.

But that was nothing new.

The town now has at least four buildings where vendors sell their wares in shared spaces. The concept benefits shoppers who can choose from enormous selections of one-of-a-kind items that can’t be mass-produced. It also fosters a spirit of cooperation among small business owners that helped during hard times, says Carissa Ressler, owner of Kairos Massage and Skin Care.

Ressler says COVID has already garnered plenty of headlines, but she admits it’s been a tough two years that spotlighted “how the owners care for one another and the championing each other to want to succeed.” She said they checked on each other, and they shared resources when needed.

Support also came from residents as well, says Charley Montgomery, co-owner of Trellis Marketplace, a three-level building with 35 vendors. Montgomery says she had a “moral dilemma” during COVID as she weighed the question: What’s it worth to save this?

“I got personal checks from customers. It wasn’t anything insane but just the smallest amount was enough for me to know: This is important; we gotta keep this going whatever it takes. People need this.”

She calls Trellis “a marketplace experience,” and though she infused her online presence during COVID, she said people prefer to visit her store in person because the space constantly changes when merchandise moves or vendors shift. 

In spite of the pandemic setback, Montgomery was able to continue and even add shop space without the need to hire staff. She, her business partner Michelle Rehkugler, the shop vendors and their family members comprise the staff for now. This has allowed Montgomery to avoid staffing challenges faced by many small business owners who cannot find help. 

But other owners struggle. Ressler says at her business, Kairos, eight out of 10 applicants scheduled for job interviews were no-shows. 

“That’s not an easy fix. It’s not a I-can-help-you-out-with-this. It’s more a I-know-how-you-feel,” she says, adding that this was an unexpected challenge. “Adapting, for small business owners, is no new thing. We are constantly adapting and facing challenges. But this is new. This is not like anything I’ve ever encountered.”

Adaptability was key for Abby Huber, who opened Charlamay’s Trinket and Treasures just this past May. Before she took on managing her own store, Huber wanted to test the waters at various vendor cooperatives. She had just completed setting up her spaces at six area co-ops in March 2020 when one week went by and COVID shut everything down. 

“But we made a go of it. We worked on Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. out of our garage, and did some online shows,” Huber says. “Then we decided to open up a store.”

The store is one level with six vendors who are just starting out, so Huber feels she’s not competing with other Elizabethtown co-ops who host more experienced vendors. 

But it’s Charlamay who sets her business apart. Charlamay is the Huber’s dog, a corgi-beagle mix. She’s a mainstay at the store, always there to greet customers, many of them students at Elizabethtown College who miss their pets at home

Another multi-level, multi-vendor store at 206 S. Market St., said to be the original in town, is Hub On Market, where shoppers can sit for a spell and sip coffee at Evo 206. Open and airy, the space includes Cider Press Market and WhirliGig, a compendium of vendor boutiques.

So while the multi-vendor model has been an Elizabethtown feature for years, it’s becoming more common and sophisticated. 

“You can shop in these businesses for hours,” says Ressler, who also chairs the Elizabethtown Holiday Task Force. Her own massage and skin care business shares a building with two small business, Found in You and Fancy Unicorn. 

“We’re a large group trying to work together,” Ressler says, and with the holidays, they want to amplify the holiday spirit. For the first time, the season will kick off with a tree lighting ceremony at a historic building that was once the Moose Lodge and is now called The Elizabeth.

Built in 1924 at 18 N. Market St., the building now houses The Marriage Hub, a Christian ministry for marriage counseling. Inside ornament making and outside carolers, food trucks and the tree lighting will happen Nov. 30, 5 to 8 p.m. 

Knowing how Elizabethtown shops, Cornerstone Youth Center hosts its annual fundraiser as a multi-level, multi-vendor event on Dec. 3, 6-9 p.m. and Dec. 4, 5-9 p.m. 

Laurie Shepler, Cornerstone executive director, said it includes 20 to 24 small business vendors, Moo-Duck Brewery next door and the Amtrak train station across the street. 

Besides shopping, music and food, Christmas trees will be featured, many of them displayed in the Amtrak train station. Rotary Club supplied 30 trees decorated by businesses. This resulted in changing the traditional name of the event, Bring the Holidays Home, to The Trees on South Wilson.

“(The Amtrak station) is such a friendly and beautiful place in our community,” Shepler says. “The vendors are excited. I love seeing the businesses make new contacts to spur their sales into the year.”

Another innovative business is Elizabethtown Coffee Company, a nonprofit shop that supports the Elizabethtown Library operations. Library director Deb Drury began the venture to raise money for the library while educating patrons about the cultures in countries where featured coffees are grown.

“(The cafe) changes the way we interact with people, so that service mentality and that community relationship is here,” Drury says. 

The cafe offers coffee, muffins and a place to sit and enjoy them. It’s directly accessible from the library and also has an entrance on Market Street, so patrons can enjoy both the library and cafe. 

 

Shop owners all plan to offer giveaways and special prices on Small Business Saturday, although the library’s cafe will be closed during Thanksgiving weekend due to work going on inside.

 

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