ROANOKE — For small businesses in Roanoke, the new year comes with a “new normal” in a COVID-19 era. Small-business owners like Anna Jones have now spent almost 10 months adapting to the ongoing pandemic.

“It’s honestly been a complete whirlwind, to say the least,” she said.

Jones is the owner of two Board & Brush studios in Roanoke and Fort Wayne. The stores offer workshops that allow customers to come in and craft DIY projects like decorative signs.

“When we shut down, we couldn’t have workshops, and so we really had to change our business,” Jones said. “Because this is something where you come in, and you make the sign, and it’s this whole experience.”

So how does a DIY sign shop stay afloat in a year without bachelorette parties, double dates and girls’ nights? The answer: a little creativity and a lot of community support.

When the lockdown began last March, the studio did not host a single workshop for the next eight weeks. It missed Mother’s Day weekend, one of its biggest weekends of the year. For the first three weeks of lockdown, its operations stopped altogether.

Then Jones and her staff started finding creative ways to reach their customers.

One by one, the store promoted carryout DIY projects like the “arts and crafts box,” which Jones said started a “blossom” of support from the local community.

“Honestly, that was the community rallying around us,” Jones said. “We started making these boxes, and people would pick them up and drop them off at their friends’ and families’ front porches.”

The arts and crafts boxes gave way to cornhole sets, which became a major summer seller.

“The weekend of Father’s Day, I think we [assembled] over 50 individual sets of cornhole, so it became like a factory in here,” Jones said. “Around the same time, we were able to reopen a little bit.”

The studio has held socially-distanced workshops at reduced capacity ever since.

“I am super glad to say that we’ve never had an experience where we’ve had a COVID exposure, or had to call anybody or anything like that,” Jones said. “We’ve had a great go of it since middle of May, so I try to always affirm that for people when they’re a little bit nervous [about coming in].”

Jones said about 5% of Board & Brush locations have closed their doors nationwide since the start of the pandemic, but her Roanoke location is right on track to celebrate its fifth anniversary this July.

For Jones and her team, the pandemic’s hardships have delivered a true “do it yourself” success story.

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