ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Many small businesses across New York are having trouble amid the pandemic. The shutdowns make it hard for them to keep up, and to turn a profit. Thankfully in Rochester, a lot of businesses have a couple things they have going for them:
Adaptability, and community support.
Laughing Gull Chocolates and Hipocampo Children’s Books are two businesses that are working to not only keep providing on Small Business Saturday, despite the new orange zone restrictions, but have gotten a hand from the “Women Owned ROC” Instagram and their holiday gift guide.
After much debate between the three co-owners, COO Karla Boyle, founder and lead chocolatier Lindsay Tarnoff, and CFO Allison Zukoski eventually decided that the they started making chocolates, and opened their brick and mortar store on 1868 Main Street in Rochester three years ago.
Laughing Makes everything from truffles, to layered chocolate bars, to meltaways (known to some as the “hot chocolate bombs.”
Their motto is “saving the world with chocolate,” and they accomplish this goal by creating chocolate products using local products, and ethically sourced chocolate.
A big part of their business has also been in-person workshops, like truffle-making, or chocolate tempering, as well as a good walk-in business.
But since the shutdown hit, they started curbside pickup, free delivery on Saturday, as well as shipping.
“Within two or three days, we got a whole shop set up on our website,” said Boyle. “And within a week, we got virtual tastings going.”
They now even have people ordering their chocolates internationally, and conducting tastings in places like Canada, and even as far away as Japan. They’re so popular, they’re nearly full with personal appointments — typically for six people, but for corporate events too — through December, but are looking at regularly scheduled opening next year.
“One things as moms and as business owners we’re all good at is adapting quickly,” said Tarnoff. “I think we’re taking it one day at a time. But we’d still love to continue virtual tastings.”
“We do as much as we can, efficiently as we can,” Boyle said.
Tarnoff says it both connects the local community and across the country.
They also offer a quarterly subscription box, as well as a monthly truffle club.
Hipocampo Children’s Book is a Latinx multi-lingual — with 14 languages represented — book store in the South Wedge. They opened up in 2019, which followed a delay because of the 2019 government shutdown, combining the knowledge and the passions of their two owners.
“We’re trying to create a space where people can walk in and find a great selection of very carefully intentionally curated children’s to adults books that reflect the cultures and growing number of languages of our citizens’ region,” said one of the co-owners, Henry Padron.
He also adds that Hipocampo is a community and performance space pre-pandemic.
Padron worked as a kindergarten teacher for decades, with 13 years in School No. 12, fueling his own passion and knowledge, along with his partner’s:
“I always loved books, I always wanted a place where I could choose books and recommend them to people,” said Pamela Bailey one of the other co-owners.
For her, this is even a dream come true. She gleefully recalls having a “bookstore” with her friends when they were children, even if the bookstore was just selling books out of their parents’ garage.
When the pandemic shutdown hit, the two had to switch completely online, and flex their “adaptbility muscles” once again.
“The whole point of sale became our dinig room,” Padron said.
Like dozens of other businesses, they offered curbside pick up as well, and would deliver books in a small radius from their store.
As a part of their increase online presence, and a way to cultivate space without a brick and mortar store, Padron began a story time series on Facebook:
But always the teacher, Padron says he learned a lot from this experience.
“It’s increased our knowledge of the whole online sale process, as well as the skills that are necessary going from a kindergarten classroom, to a business owner, to a pandemic, to then learning the skills you need to,” he said. “It’s been great for my synapses.”
Bailie says that any success that they have is because of their relationship to the community.
“Our store got this response not just because we did something that other people liked, but because we’re also listening to what people,” she said. “Everyday someone comes in (looking for a book), and if it fits with what we’re getting it, so the next time they come, they’re so excited that they were listening to them.”
Why small businesses are important
Everyone who was interviewed in this story are the only employees of their businesses. Laughing Gull makes chocolate internationally with only a team of three, and Bailie and Padron are the only two who run Hipocampo.
For Laughing Gull, it’s building a community, and supporting others.
“We support other small businesses in every that we do,” Kuzoski said. “So our spices are from Stuart’s Spices, we go to Pittsford Dairy to get heavy cream. We go out of our way to support these small businesses in the products we create.”
“The small business community here is very interwoven. Supporting one often means supporting others,” Boyle added. “It always come back around.”
They also have started an “Inspired by Rochester” series which are chocolates made with even more local ingredients — which features some classics like Joe Bean coffee beans, or mole sauce from Salena’s — that allows them to not only support other businesses, but to turn product around faster.
While Hipocampo thrives on community as well, as Padron details his intricate web of business, Bailie discusses how their space is a safe and cultivating space, the joy their products bring people, but Padron offers this other thought:
“We’re incubators and innovators of creativity as well,” he said. “Small business are taking risks that from business perspective, may not have been taking, or the community needs doesn’t know that they’re taking. They look at something, think of a project, and they go out and do it. It wouldn’t exist otherwise.”
Women Owned ROC
“Our goal is to help consumers in Rochester find women-owned businesses, products or services to meet their specific needs and serve as a destination for socially-conscious shoppers and supporters of women’s economic empowerment,” said the guide curator in a statement.
“Women-owned businesses are struggling during this pandemic at a higher rate and that impacts our families, our city, and our community. I felt like the community was missing one place to serve as a hub for women-owned businesses,” Women Owned ROC added. “In the future I would like to expand and help the community in any way that I can. This could include networking opportunities, a mentorship program, and general marketing/business assistance.”