Sam Karnes spends a Saturday in December at The Coffee Roaster packing online orders for the holidays. Photo courtesy of @coffeeroasterlnk
Sam Karnes spends a Saturday in December at The Coffee Roaster packing online orders for the holidays. Photo courtesy of @coffeeroasterlnk

Kashoan Ward started her handcrafted jewelry and décor business, Krafty Kash Designs, as a hobby on her kitchen table to help pay for her daughter’s drum lessons. Now it is a full-time job that pays the bills.

“I have poured so much of myself into everything I make. When COVID started, I was terrified of losing everything,” Ward said.

The last nine months have asked everyone around the world to stay inside, don’t go out and keep their distance. These guidelines have skyrocketed online shopping with corporations like Amazon and Walmart. Americans spent over $10 billion on Cyber Monday Adobe Analytics reported. Yet, local businesses, with mainly in-person retail, are suffering. Nearly 100,000 American businesses have permanently closed as a result of the pandemic, according to Yelp’s Local Economic Impact Report from September 2020. The Visa Back to Business Study Holiday Edition also reported that Thanksgiving to Christmas marks most businesses’ holiday season, with seven out of every 10 small businesses recording top sales out of the entire fiscal year. Ward said that Krafty Kash works through two different platforms, an online shop she completely stocks and manages and through craft shows and fairs across Nebraska.

“The thing I miss the most is being able to go out to sell my art at shows,” she said. “I miss seeing people’s faces when they find a piece they love, getting to talk to them about who the gift is for and what it means to them. I love our shoppers because I know when they purchase from us it means more than the click of a button on Amazon. I miss that connection with my customers.”

For Ward, small businesses are key to helping create a strong Lincoln community.

“Our commerce is a part of our identity,” she added.

Despite the struggle of having to forgo craft fairs, Ward feels fortunate for Krafty Kash’s online platform. Having such a solid online presence has maintained some normalcy for running Krafty Kash; the same cannot necessarily be said for all small businesses right now.

Sam Karnes, owner of Lincoln’s The Coffee Roaster, a family business that began with her father, said The Coffee Roaster now has multiple ways for people to shop.

“They can get local delivery for $2 and we also have in store pickup and we do curbside. So, we just try to make everyone feel comfortable,” Karnes said.

Aside from different ways to receive goods, Karnes has also worked hard to utilize The Coffee Roaster’s still recently developed website which allows consumers to order various coffee roasts, tea brews, accessories and apparel.

“When the pandemic first hit, we really saw a big increase in our website because we implemented local delivery,” she said. “We started rolling out a new website a couple months ago. That probably would’ve taken a year or more without a pandemic.”

Both shops and consumers alike are changing the way they conduct business. Kate Millington, a Lincoln resident, has limited herself to all online shopping and said the only in-person shopping she does is for groceries.

“Online shopping just feels safer during COVID when trying to avoid big crowds or anything like that,” Millington said.

When shopping online however, Millington said she is missing the quality assessment that she gets from shopping in person, especially with smaller stores. Habitat, a local Lincoln business centered on kitchen goods, has become Millington and her mother’s favorite local spot. The draw? Quality, variety, price and care.

“It has a really wide variety of products so you can find gifts for a lot of different types of people there,” Millington said.

In a time where online shopping is becoming the safer option, consumers are still trying to find ways to support their favorite local shops.

“I recently started using Habitat’s online store,” Millington said. “It wasn’t as easy to find and navigate as something like Amazon, but I know and trust Habitat. It’s not the same as being there, but I love this store and honestly I just want to do what I can to make sure it is still here after COVID has passed.”

COVID may have created uncertainty for most people, but businesses are still seeing Lincolnites come together to support each other.

“Lincoln is really showing up,” Karnes said. “We don’t want to be a town full of chain business and making sure we support local that will hopefully not be the case after this is over.”