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Pandemic Stories

Written by CMG News Contributor, Doug Carleton

Although the economy is on the upswing, unemployment remains high and some jobs will never be back. However, the entrepreneurial spirit lives on. In some cases, it's people who have turned what was a hobby before they lost their jobs into businesses to survive. Others saw an opportunity to take a chance on a dream. Here are some of their stories:

Making vinyl records, as in actual manufacture. Many lives ago, my 12-year-old stepson walked into the den. We had a couple of 33 rpm records sitting on top of a cabinet. He walked over, picked it up, turned it over several times in his hands, looked at the grooves, and said, "What's this?" We told him, "when you put it on a turntable and set the needle into the grooves, it played music." This was long before the first iPhone. He left shaking his head. In Wisconsin, a web programmer who wanted to get out of the IT business bought a $10,000 machine to cut vinyl records. He now takes analog signals and creates a vinyl record from them. One of his first customers was a woman who wanted to make a record for her daughter's anniversary. He recorded the spoken vows on one side and the music from the reception on the other. A new manufacturer/producer was born.

In Brooklyn, a laid-off creative director for a retailer had grown up in an Italian-Portuguese family. He loved to cook and when describing his family, said, "Food is what we did.". As the lockdown grew longer, he began posting close-up pictures showing his take on old family dishes. He now has 52,000 followers on Instagram, a website, and collaborations with companies like Chobani.

In Oregon, a single mom got laid off from her job. She was a Vietnamese refugee, and cooking had always been a part of her family life. She began searching YouTube for meat-free recipes. She found a recipe for mock pork belly made with ingredients in the traditional style of Buddhist monks and made a batch. She live-streamed the recipe on Instagram and orders started coming in almost instantaneously. By the end of the first week, she had filled 100 orders. Within weeks, she was shipping nationwide.

A former driver for FedEx was living in Alabama. She had quit her job to stay home with her three children, now attending school from home... A decade earlier, she and her husband had been stationed in Italy while he served in the army. Her son and daughter both had eczema and chronic dry skin. Nothing prescribed by the doctors on base helped their skin, so she decided to make a chemical-free soap. Once she came up with a satisfactory product, she opened an Etsy shop to sell her varieties of soaps.

A restaurant manager in New York had to find new work after being furloughed. She had a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. In her 20's she had experimented with denim by taking repurposed denim jackets and festooning them with all types of baubles, costume jewelry, and more. She now sells her jackets anywhere from $295 to $1,500. Her business is slowly growing to a point where she will be able to leave the restaurant industry permanently.

Today, with such mediums as Instagram, YouTube, and other social media channels, a hobby or a skill can become a viable business. The ability for people to see your product or service without leaving their chairs could mean that you have the seeds of your own future business.


This blog entry is a slightly edited excerpt from Doug Carleton's 'The Daily Life Of A Small Business Owner' series. Doug was a mentor with SCORE, Startup Virginia, and Lighthouse Labs, and has 25+ years of experience in small business finance including 12 years in SBA lending. To contact Doug directly, please email him at


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