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What to do during the pandemic

Check out craft shows and small business owners who safely keep shops open

Danielle Scott and her children Olivia, 7, and Owen, 4, all of Indiana, look for items on a scavenger hunt in a sunflower maze at Smithmyer’s Farm outside of Patton on Wednesday afternoon./Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Typically, craft vendors Joanne Sorge of Williamsburg and Barb Geist of Altoona travel to 30 to 50 festivals and fairs and shows, with most happening during the summer weekends.

This year has been far from typical for Geist who makes mesh wreaths in various designs. The season started strong with three craft shows in March and then the pandemic hit.

Summerás been devoid of large-scale concerts, county and local fairs and festivals, and live performances. Performers, vendors and craftsmen who rely on large-crowd events are disconnected from their audiences and customers. But some local entrepreneurs have rallied together in an effort to produce some income for themselves and diversions for the socially-starved public.

This isnát an all encompassing list, but a small sampling of small business owners who have pivoted as they balance public health needs, paying their bills and meeting their customers.

Craft shows cropping up

Sorge and Geist found an outlet for their crafts at the Plank Road Craft Show, which is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through the end of October at 2319 Plank Road, Altoona (if using GPS put in Altoona).

The outdoor event is the organizational-brainchild of Jennifer Benton of Altoona and her business partner Sherri Zyra of Duncansville, who do business as year round as Shiplap Shackás Halloween Shop. When they saw the local craft outlets dry up they decided to organize an outdoor event in compliance with CDC and state guidelines. Vendors wear masks and maintain social distancing.

âWe wanted to do it right and offer a safe outlet for both the vendors and the customers,ã Benton said, who had previous experience in organizing events, but not on this scale or duration.

Sorge and Geist are among a core group of vendors who attend each week with more vendors participating as schedules permit. Geist, owner of Deco Mesh Wreaths, said crowds have been steady and the weather has cooperated with rain only shortening one Saturday.

âAs vendors we are just happy to have somebody step up and organize this show. Organizing shows is not an easy task,,ã Geist said.

Logistics, such as setting up booths, porta-johns and hand-sanitizer stations, have been organized by Benton, whom Sorge described as having âmore energy than the Energizer Bunny.ã Vendors pay $20 per week to participate and that helps offset expenses.

âWeáve tried to offer a variety of vendors,ã Benton said, such as essential oils, painters and wood-workers and jewelry makers. âWeáve had different themes some weeks such as Christmas in July.ã Vendors will dress up and decorate their booths to celebrate an early Halloween the last weekend in August.

The group recently made a decision to stay open through the end of October because of the cancellation of the Bedford Fall Foliage Festival. As the weeks progressed they added vendors to supply funnel cakes and snow cones which have been crowd-pleasers.

âWeáre like a family. We all know each other from past festivals. We help each other out. Iám so happy I have this to go to,ã Sorge said. Sorge is the owner of Joás Yard Flags and said popular sellers this summer are political banners, uplifting sayings that encourage prayer and all kinds of dog-breed flags. She keeps about 90 flags on display. Flag prices range between $7 and $12.

âI know the area and I donát charge outrageous prices because I try to keep it to what people are willing to pay,ã Sorge said.

In addition to providing vendors with a place to share their talents, Geist said the craft fair has âgiven the community (a chance) to get out and buy something that makes them feel good,ã she said, adding, âIt makes my heart smile when someone looks at my wreaths and says, àthis is just what Iám looking for.áã

Creating a wreath, a flag, or a painting âis like therapy for us,ã Geist said. âWhen we start making something and weáre creating, our focus is on this one thing and it takes our mind off all the bad things that are happening.ã

Food trucks serve it up

Like the crafts vendors, the cancellation of community celebrations, county fairs and fun festivals left food truck vendors high and dry.

But three local businessmen combined their experience and talents and turned a local bowling alley into a food truck food court.

Three such food truck vendors — Doug Rhodes, Scott Zimmerer, both of Altoona, and Brian Klavuhn of Bedford — are âfoodie friends,ã according to Rhodes who runs Dougás Dogs, a well-established food truck business.

Zimmerer, the manager of the Holiday Bowl at the high traffic corner of Plank Road and Goodás Lane, is also a kettle corn concessionaire in his spare time, so he reached out to Rhodes and Klavuhn, offers wood-fired pizza at his food truck. With the approval of the corporation that owns the bowling alley, the three started calling others.

âFor Scott to reach out to us and include others has been a lifeline. Iáve been in business 15 years so I have an established clientele,ã Rhodes said, adding itás a difficult business. âIám working three times harder for 60 or 70 percent of my usual take.ã

The group makes sure the food truck vendors are in compliance with all licensing requirements as food vendors.

âGenerally, our three trucks serve as the anchors and then we line up other trucks to fill in each weekend without any duplication,ã Rhodes said. âThe (customers) ebb and flow depending on the weather,ã Rhodes said. âMost of the time business is steady with no long lines.ã

In 90-degree heat crowds are smaller but âitás going quite well. Weáve had no issues. People are social distancing and the trucks are set apart.ã

The food trucks advertise as âThe Tailgate in the Parking Lot,ã and have a same-named Facebook page where people can check to see who will be serving up each weekend.

âItás really fun to watch the families pull in. Everyone gets out of the car and scatters,ã he said. âThen they meet back at their car and put a tailgate down and eat together as a family. Itás really fun.ã

Rhodes, who is also a classically-trained pianist, said musicians are also among the hurting independent entrepreneurs.

âWe have all had to find solutions to new problems and we are doing what weáre doing to help our food friends,ã Rhodes said.

Where feasible, some venues have added outdoor tables for patrons like Woody Lodge Winery in Ashville and at the C2 Trolley House at Lakemont Park.

At Woody Lodge during past summers, the venue offers wine specials and allows patrons to bring their own food items. Now, under the CDC guidelines relating to food and to occupancy rates, Woody Lodge has rented outdoor tents and placed them in the parking lot area to supplement itás top deck and front porch seating because so few people are allowed inside, said Ashley Angel, assistant manager and public relations specialist for Woody Lodge.

âOur outlook remains positive and we are staying in compliance with COVID guidelines,ã she said. âWeáve become quite innovative.ã

Lunch items include a pecan cranberry chicken salad on a croissant paired with fruit and cheese, paninis, and fruit and cheese trays that compliment the wine. On some weekends, they have a food truck available.

âWe want people to stay safe and not be afraid to enjoy life,ã she said.

Chef Doug Simon expressed similar thoughts, âWe want to make sure we are doing what we are supposed to do and still make it comfortable for customers.ã

Simon said his customers at C2 Trolley House are enjoying the expanded seating theyáve added outside the trolley house and others are comfortable sitting inside the former bumper car location with air flow enhanced by the placement of several fans.

Customers are seated at the tables and place their food and beverage orders, he said. Entertainment has ranged from acoustic guitar soloists to classic rock bands and oldies groups.

In only its second year, the C2 Trolley House has âpeople outside and enjoying the weather. Itás been great weather and — knock on wood — it stays that way. Weáre drawing people out of hibernation.ã

Attendance varies and a good night is 60-70 patrons, Simon said. The local performers like White Shadow, Boomers, and Captain Bisquick, often bring out their fans who are longing for live music.

âThe musicians have been extraordinarily helpful in helping us get off the ground,ã Simon said, âand weáre giving them an opportunity to perform.ã

Unfortunately, the C2 Trolley House will close Sept. 13, Simon said, because as the weather changes it becomes harder to host at an outside venue.

Here are some additional events coming up:

– 7:30 p.m. Monday, Cresson Lake Playhouse, 279 Shapiro Road, Loretto, cost $12. Cresson Lake Playhouse presents âUnplugged and Open-Air,ã an outdoor event featuring crowd favorite-musicians singing jazz, folk, blues, country and current musical stylings. Tickets can be purchased behind the barn at the path to the pavilion from the parking lot. If you are dropping a patron off, please drop them off at this path in the parking lot. Some seating will be available, but patrons are urged to bring their own outdoor seating if possible. Patrons are also urged to wear masks as they move in and around the venue. Concessions will also be available so no outside food or drink will be permitted.In the case of inclement weather, rain dates are scheduled for August 18 and 19. If the event must be changed, check, www.cressonlake.com

– Altoona Symphony Orchestra quartet presents âcushion concertsã area a family-friendly and educational experience. Attendees are asked to bring a cushion, chair, or blanket to sit on and to maintain proper social distancing protocols. Audience numbers may be limited according to state mandates.

– âSalute to American Music,ã by the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 in Canal Basin Park. The quartet will highlight the American show tune, the earliest âAmericanã style composers and patriotic favorites. This program will explore the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, George Gershwin and Aaron Copland for âa lovely evening of remembrance and a celebration of the American spirit,ã according to Stephanie Everett, the ASOás principal second violinist.

– âMeet Me at the Movies,ã small stage at Lakemont Park, 1 p.m. Sept. 12, the quartet presents movie music: âFrom the joyous optimism of the American Movie Musical, to the memorable themes of the action thrillers, movie music has always enhanced the theatrical experience. Join our quartet for your favorite movie themes. This program will explore the music of movie musicals, popular composers and Disney favorites,ã Everett said.

For further information, visit www.altoonasymphony.org.

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