Many local businesses were already way ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when he declared on April 1 that all nonessential businesses needed to close their doors.
Sensing the bad news was inevitable, some had already begun adapting in order to stay alive.
James Serrano, who owns Pinot’s Palette in the Shoppes at New Tampa, had already temporarily converted his Wesley Chapel studio, which specializes in large group gatherings with wine drinking and painting, into a stay-at-home, do-it-yourself painting “experience” by selling kits that included paint, brushes, a canvas and instructions.
“We basically had to do something,” says Serrano. “We were worried.”
On the first day of selling the take-home kits, he arrived to find a line of cars. Some ended up waiting for more than an hour because Serrano was overwhelmed by the turnout. Most of the cars were occupied by eager parents looking for a way to keep their children occupied.
Serrano also turned to virtual classes and, last week, hosted his first virtual private party for a church group — 13 women painting the same picture who were able to converse with each other online as they did so.
He also has delivered kits to people who request them, and even filled an order to be shipped to Puerto Rico.
Although some adults have asked if he could include Pinot’s usually-present wine with their order (he’s looking into it), he says his No. 1 customers now are kids, as parents have to constantly be entertaining their homebound youngsters.
Because Serrano still has to pay rent on a studio he isn’t using, he isn’t making money right now. However, he is staying afloat and hopeful things can return to normal soon.
“The community support has been so great,” he says. “Thank God people are buying the kits. Thank God.”
While a host of the area’s non-essential businesses will have no choice but to close down for the next month, the ones that can incorporate video conferencing technology like Zoom, or even FaceTime, are finding ways to survive.
John Thrasher, the owner of Excel Music in New Tampa, and Larry Bigel of Tampa Fine Arts Academy (TFAA) in Wesley Chapel, both are able to provide all of their lessons online.
Thrasher said Excel began the transition the first week in March, with some students choosing to go online. Following spring break, everything went online, and students were able to keep their same teachers.
“We did it quickly and on the early side,” Thrasher says. “We beat the governor’s stay-at-home order by a couple of weeks. Anytime you transition, there are going to be some bumps, but for the most part, it’s actually gone pretty smoothly. We’re seeing a lot of smiling faces.”
For Bigel, who says TFAA transitioned 600 students to 100-percent online by March 23, it was all about keeping the students and teachers safe and the business viable.
“Thankfully, you can never catch a disease over the internet,” he says.
At F45 Training at The Grove, the group fitness training facility’s grand opening plans had to be put on hold and the free bootcamps offered to drum up business and market the area’s newest fitness center had to be canceled.
But, F45 at The Grove owners Bob and Kim Balfe are bringing the exercise right to your home instead.
They have posted a video series of home bootcamps on their Facebook page (search: F45 Grove Wesley Chapel), with their trainers doing 45-minute programs in their own driveways that you can follow along to.
All of the workouts are free.
Bob says other F45 studios are now following suit.
“Oh my God, it’s been amazing,” says Bob. “Some of the F45s from all over the world are kind of jealous. When we put these (workouts) out, they are getting hundreds of views in just minutes.”
Bob says his F45 studio just finished receiving its final coat of paint, and will be ready for a soft opening on (or around) Friday, May 8, if Florida’s stay-at-home order is lifted by then.