WARWICK, RI— The Small Business Saturday SHOP RI business expo’s fifth installment will be its biggest yet with 160 local vendors set up on the entire first floor of Crowne Plaza Warwick, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
The annual event, where many returning businesses report their best sales of the year, is a welcome chance to turn around a difficult business year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns and shortages of supplies and labor plaguing proprietors. Sue Babin, SHOP RI Chairperson, pointed out that 90 percent of businesses in Rhode Island are small businesses. Many of those businesses are so small, however they didn’t qualify for the federal aid that helped many larger businesses in Rhode Island.
“They too suffered through tremendous hardships,” Babin said of the state’s small business community. Small Business Saturday and SHOP RI stand to add a little relief for people who’ve been struggling to keep running this year.
Also, she said, many people who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic joined the ranks of the self-employed
Babin is also Special Projects Coordinator at the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council (RIDDC), which provides business development classes and other resources funded by a grant from the State Department of Labor and Training to people with disabilities and others to start and grow their businesses. She’s also excited to be adding more entrepreneurs with disabilities this year with 26. In 2019, the last in-person event, they had 20. Babin proudly points to the people the RIDDC has helped get in business, showing, “People with disabilities can be entrepreneurs just like anyone else,” she said.
Kathy Gudmundson Photography
One of the 26 RIDDC exhibitors is Kathy Gudmundson, owner of Kathy Gudmundson Photography, selling her photography of the natural world including landscapes, birds and the moon. Kathy found herself providing her own ways of staying busy during the pandemic, when her adult day services program at the Trudeau Center shut down. Where she usually could depend on the center to provide daily activities including walks in the park and bowling, Kathy was spending a lot of time coming up with her own diversions.
One of those diversions was using her dad’s digital SLR to photograph the world around her, Kathy said. “I just needed something to do,” she said.
“She really got to love it,” said Kathy’s mom, Lynda. Not long after, Kathy and Lynda sat in on a RIDDC Zoom presentation about starting your own business. They began selling prints of Kathy’s photos on her Facebook Page, Kathy Gudmundson Photography, and at local arts and craft fairs.
“She’s had multiple orders and we’re really proud of her,” Lynda said.
Kathy hopes to add to those orders when visitors stop by her booth at Shop RI at Crowne Plaza during Small Business Saturday.
“It’s her thing. She really loves it,” Lynda added.
Nancy Nielsen, owner of Nansea Studios, 5 Division St., East Greenwich, has also turned her passion for art and creativity into a successful business. Nielsen sells her hand-crafted sea glass/driftwood sculptures, coasters, ornaments, photography, small framed art, and mosaic tiles from her studio on the Warwick-East Greenwich line, and will bring all that to her booth at Crowne Plaza Saturday.
The core of her business, she said, is “Sharing a piece of myself with other people.”
Nancy’s been a photographer for the last nine years, and started selling her work at holiday craft shows about five years ago, she said. But her creativity really got a jolt in 2012 when she took an “Out of the Box” photography class that challenged her to point her camera in a way that was, “Seeing life from a different perspective,” Nancy said.
She entered the work in a juried art show at the Wickford Art Association and got accepted. She credits that art class with inspiring her to be more creative with her work and less concerned about following the rules. Creating art has been a lot more fun since then.
“The excitement has just sort of been this rolling ball,” Nancy said.
Nancy first signed up for SHOP RI’s Small Business Saturday show last year, when the show had to be done virtually. So this will be her first in-person showing at the event. While her first forays into art focused on photography, she has noted that people don’t seem to want wall art for the holidays. So she started channeling her creativity into sea glass sculptures, small pictures, and jewelry.
If it lights up a person’s day, Nancy’s happy to have created it.
“I like the idea of being able to bring joy to other people,” Nancy said, “It’s fun to have someone come into my booth and see them smile.”
Vanessa Piche Art
Vanessa Piche started out with a degree in fashion at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) part of the State University of New York and followed that up by studying Plein air painting (painting outdoors), working nature into her art, sometimes literally, in the case of many unfortunate mosquitoes.
Her commercial art started when she “married the two,” transcribing her art onto a line of T-shirts, which she sells at her 10 Main St, North Kingstown boutique, along with gifts, prints, cards, and her new children’s book, The Adventures of Dune and Nash, which started as a series of drawings.
Vanessa’s diversified wares are the result of some keen thinking about how to sell her art when many people seemed to be saying to her they were all out of space for wall art. Her solution: Apparel, gifts and books.
“It just kind of really works together,” she said.
This will be Vanessa’s third time exhibiting at SHOP RI. She’s been hooked since her first experience there.
“It’s just a great crowd. People come in and they’re excited. They want to buy local things,” Vanessa said. “The crowd comes to shop.”
Babin said she’s so impressed with the spirit and creativity that go into local business owners creations, whether it’s Kathy’s eye for nature, Nancy’s passion scouring Rhode Island beaches for sea glass for her sculptures, or Vanessa’s creative energy channeled into apparel, books and gifts.
“It’s pieces of their heart,” Babin said.
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