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During statewide shutdown, closed businesses find ways to stay open online

Upward Graphics
Upward Graphics, an apparel embroidering and printing shop in Fulton, is now selling retail T-shirts with messages of hope and community, one of many businesses in the area that are finding new ways to connect to their customers during the state shutdown.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week extended his executive order that requires the state's nonessential workforce to work from home until April 15, including his earlier mandate that temporarily closed certain types of businesses like restaurants, bars, theaters, and gyms. The additional two weeks could have major implications for many companies, but some businesses are making the most of the situation, finding new, innovative ways to reach their clientele.

Before the rapid spread of the coronavirus closed most of New York state, Syracuse Stage had advertised its upcoming performance of Amadeus as an "enticing and enjoyable theatrical experience." Even though the play is now only available in a recorded version filmed on its opening night, Director Bob Hupp said the production still lives up to that promise.

"It’s a different experience, it’s not the same as sharing it with your friends and family there in the moment, but because it was filmed literally in front of a live audience you do get that reaction, you do get that sense of the group experience," Hupp said. "So, I think it’s the next best thing to being there."

The decision to have WCNY film the opening - and what ended up also being the closing night - of the performance was a last-minute decision. Hupp said it was the right call. Not only has the videotaped version given the Syracuse Stage a chance to honor ticket holders, but it's also helping them reach new audiences. After a positive review of the recorded play ran in the Wall Street Journal, Hupp said Syracuse Stage sold the recording to viewers across the country - a silver lining for a theater in these times.

"The core of our business is bringing people together. Well, we can’t do that right now. So rather than sit idle, we are trying to say what can we do," Hupp said. "One of the things that’s cool about the film – when we’re in the theater, we’re usually about 20 or 30 or 40 feet away from the stage – that’s typical – but the cameras are able to get up close."

Credit Journey 333
Journey 333, a fitness franchise based out of the Southern Tier, is now offering its group exercise classes, demonstrations, and trainings online.

The temporary shutdown is also creating new opportunities for Journey 333, a fitness franchise based with locations in Ithaca, Corning, and Horseheads, and one in Pennsylvania and Indiana. People who had never worked out at the fitness center are now signing up for its live online workout classes through Zoom.

Journey 333 owner Travis Barnes said he was initially worried that his business, which is based on a model of group exercise, could possibly have to close. But he said it's actually been a blessing in disguise. They have come up with new ways to connect with their members, like offering cooking classes on Facebook Live, while still maintaining their signature community interaction.

"When we get to the end of the workout, that's when we will unmute everybody and they have a chance to talk to one another and still see the people they were working out with before and meet new people," Barnes said. "We now have a new theme that we are 'journey strong' because all of our communities - all the way out to Indiana and back to here - and our coaches are all under one virtual roof on a similar journey so, in a way we are kind of getting stronger because of this and getting more connected."

Still, many business owners who are now reaching people online say their new approach is not just about staying afloat, it's also about helping their neighbors. That was the driving force behind a virtual dinner that four restaurants in central New York are hosting this week. People can pick up a four-course meal from participating restaurants or have it delivered and dine with hundreds of others in the region via Zoom.

Tim Hardiman, owner of the Tailor & The Cook restaurant in Utica, said while the sales from this event may help him give his former staffers some work and aid his temporarily closed restaurant, this event was designed for the community.

"Everybody is going through this together, but separate," Hardiman said. "Everyone’s lives are totally upended and the idea of being able to virtually bring all of us together over a meal, well that’s what I do for a living. That’s hospitality. So, we’re going to try and do it and the name speaks volumes: 'Social from a Distance.'"

Malbert Dela Pena, owner of Upward Graphics in Fulton, is also trying to keep the community connected with his business. His shop exclusively sold embroidered and printed apparel before the coronavirus spread. Now, he's selling retail: T-shirts that say, "I will survive COVID-19. Divided, We Stand Together. #SocialDistancing." Another T-shirt he offers honors healthcare workers. It says, "Not All Heroes Wear Capes." The sales from those shirts will help fund Dela Pena's donation of thousands of face masks to healthcare workers in Oswego County. 

Credit Malbert Dela Pena
Malbert Dela Pena, owner of Upward Graphics in Fulton, used funds from his business and donations from the community to purchase face masks for Oswego County healthcare workers.

"I’m not doing this for recognition," Dela Pena said. "When you do something bigger than yourself, especially if you do it for other people, it produces happiness and gives you strength knowing that you’re doing it for others than doing it for money."

Like many other businesses, Upward Graphics is struggling even as it finds new avenues to its customers online. Dela Pena said he's probably got only three months of savings left, but he is going to stay open as long as he can to keep giving back. 

"I am an immigrant from the Philippines," He said. "When I came here, a lot of people supported us and now that I have the connections and means to do it, I want to give back."

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.