Lisa Lahti has seen income from her small Gastonia business evaporate since a statewide stay-at-home order and social distancing restrictions were put in place to stem the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
But rather than being stifled by fear and uncertainty, Lahti has gotten busy, embarking with others on a quest to bring relief to others in Gaston County that are struggling financially during these uncertain times.
Lahti said she’s always tried to live by the mantra of “just be nice to people, be kind.” And she’s expanded that philosophy to her small business.
“To give of yourself, your time or your energy doesn’t cost you anything. Give more than you actually need to. And to see other people doing that, really makes me feel heartened.”
Two years ago, Lahti began her business, Pickleweeds Press, a micro-printer that specializes in earth-friendly printing. She not only does commercial jobs, but also designs and sells clothing from her shop located at 170 S. South St. in downtown Gastonia.
“I love it,” said Lahti, who started the business after retiring from her corporate job with Publix. “I have control of the entire process. I design, I do all the prep, I do all the printing myself. And I actually get to see the customer’s face when they buy it. It’s very rewarding to me.”
Lahti says there is a vibrant, talented group of artists residing in Gastonia. For the past year, they had been displaying their goods during a First Friday Art Crawl, held from 6 to 9 the first Friday night of each month in a parking lot along South South Street.
“We’ve got jewelry makers, people who do sewing, potters, woodworkers,” she said of the event that usually attracts around a dozen participants.
But now many of those folks are struggling as festivals and other events have been canceled in the wake of the pandemic.
“We schedule things in January for at least six months out. And that all went away,” said Lahti, who said she was booked for every weekend through mid-May.
Now, she’s struggling to replace the income lost from the cancellations of two Gastonia festivals, as well as others in Kings Mountain and Charlotte, as well as the two-day Hippie Fest in Cayce, S.C.
“That was going to be a big one for me,” said Lahti, who offers printing on hemp fabric shirts.
Lahti’s spouse continues to work so that helps ease the financial strain. And while she’s filed an application for unemployment benefits, she’s like thousands of others in North Carolina who are still waiting for their first check.
“We’re getting by,” Lahti said. “I guess I’m lucky in that I’m the sole proprietor and I’m my only employee. My overhead is low and I don’t have a lot of payroll. I’m probably in a better position than a lot of these people that have a lot of employees and have had to close.”
She said she’s inspired watching the efforts of local business owners who are coming up with creative ways to keep their business operating.
“I go from debilitating fear to ‘we can get through this,’” Lahti said. “It’s like a roller coaster. And you feel so helpless, like there’s nothing I can do.”
What she did to take back a little control was to come up with a design for a T-shirt to benefit the Gaston County Virus Relief Fund. The teal blue T-shirts, that features the words Celebrate Local and #gosupportgaston, sell for $15 with $10 from each sale going to the fund that is overseen by the Gaston Community Foundation and United Way of Gaston County.
“I’m not making any money off of it, but at least it gives me something to do and a reason to keep doing what I’m doing,” Lahti said. “It kind of helps me feel a little bit better about all the scary stuff going on. At least I can put my talents to work for somebody.”
She said her goal is to sell 100 of the T-shirts and she’s already sold and delivered several since printing them Friday. The response has been “100 percent positive,” said Lahti.
Since the fund’s formation in mid-March, there had been $371,681 raised by 131 donors and four fundraisers as of Wednesday, April 15. Donations are awarded to local non-profit organizations responding and impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.