Two Montpelier-based businesses go digital to survive the pandemic

Vermont

President Joe Biden declared the week of September 12-18: National Small Business Week. He urges the nation to recognize the hard work and resilience business owners exhibited during the darkest days of the pandemic. 

When storefronts shut down, out went many business models. That prompted two Vermonters to make the switch to social media. 

“When the pandemic hit, we realized it’s time, you need to get online,” said Erin Sigrist, President of Vermont’s Retail and Grocers Association.

To provide support, Sigrist partnered with marketing agencies and hosted nearly two dozen webinars to help small businesses adapt. One found success after a few training sessions.

“‘Hi, Instagram. Hi, Facebook. Happy Sunday, everyone! It’s beautiful, it’s sunny out,'” said store owner Sarah Defelice on a Facebook Live event.  

Defelice is the owner of Bailey Road, a boutique in downtown Montpelier. When the pandemic hit, she had to think outside the box if she wanted to stay in business. 

“For the first couple of weeks, we were like, ‘what are we going to do?’ And you just start trying things,” said Defelice.

Every Sunday, she would log onto Facebook and Instagram, promote her clothes and chat with customers. 

“I found that it was just a really authentic way to connect people,” she said.

Like Bailey Road, another store took to social media during the pandemic. But Fairmont Market, an online meat market, used it to start a new business.

“July of 2020, we started doing this and we didn’t know what we didn’t know. But now we’re over a year into…And it’s a business model that works,” said Elizabeth Hall, co-owner of Fairmont Market. 

Hall is the co-creator alongside four other women. Together, they created a place for customers to ditch the grocery stores and purchase beef, pork, and lamb along with recipes and other ingredients. Customers can choose to pick up their bags or have them delivered.

“During the pandemic, we didn’t to per se go into the grocery store. We wanted to have the least amount of contact during that time. And we found that as people are starting to go back to the grocer store, they still want to come back because they have that connection with their farmer,” said Hall.

Hall and Defelice advise other businesses who may be struggling to develop an online presence and take risks. 

Sigrist says she will continue to represent small businesses in front of state lawmakers. At this year’s legislative session, she’s looking to help small businesses across the state get the federal assistance they didn’t have access to previously.

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