Retail merchants on Fourth Avenue locked their doors and set up shop online—and on social media—in an attempt to salvage sales lost after the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association canceled the 50th Annual Fourth Avenue Street Fair on March 13, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fred Ronstadt, executive director of FAMA, said he was at a loss when it became clear the spring street fair would need to be canceled. The street fair, held twice a year, accounts for nearly half of the association’s revenue to maintain the avenue, Ronstadt said. But more importantly, he knows how much street fair season means to Fourth Avenue merchants before going into triple-digit weather.
“It’s the revenue we use to take care of the avenue, pick up trash, clean the streets and market events,” Ronstadt said. “But it’s especially tough on the merchants. This is the revenue they need to get through summer.”
Help came in the form of a street fair volunteer for the Ironhorse neighborhood’s beer tent. Daniel Dempsey, owner of local start-up coManage, developed the Fourth Avenue Virtual Street Fair’s page.
“When we saw the event was canceled, we saw there was no way to easily find the vendors, it was all in a PDF. So we decided to take the data and throw together a simple, static website,” Dempsey said. “This is not even close to what we do. We went from idea on that Thursday to done by Friday.”
The virtual street fair highlights all the booths that would have participated this year, with links to peruse and purchase their crafts. The page has received more than 25,000 click-thrus in under a week of going live, said Ronstadt.
“It lists all the artists that would’ve been in the fair plus all of the merchants that would’ve had booths, as well,” Ronstadt said. “All the links and sales go directly to the artists.”
But the virtual street fair isn’t the only thing individual Fourth Avenue merchants have planned for Friday. Lizzie Mead, owner of Silver Sea Jewelry, and her crew also took matters into their own hands since closing up shop due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right when they decided the street fair was not going to be a go, I realized I was super overstretched and I’ve dumped all my money into products for street fair,” Mead said. “So, I just tried to come up with a solution.”
Silver Sea Jewelry hosted Merm-Aid on Facebook Live, showcasing their handmade jewelry in the style of the Home Shopping Network for eight hours on Friday morning.
“We’ve had a lot of juice for our live sale already on Facebook and that’s been great,” Mead said. “The most important thing right now is my employees because they’re my best friends.”
Mead said she hoped her live-streaming sale will help her be able to give street fair bonuses to her employees in addition to their hourly rate, as that’s something she’s done since moving to Fourth Avenue 11 years ago.
“My feeling was let’s do this live sale and try to get (her employees) what they would’ve made at street fair,” Mead said. “The goal of this sale is to help them pocket more money to get them solid.”
For Mead, having street fair canceled is especially hard. Not only do those three days account for over two months of income, she said, the jewelry maker also has to start making her inventory months in advance. Mead said she hopes to be able to recoup the money she’s already spent.
“The best thing I can do at this point is come up with a way to at least try to make up the prep-money I spent for street fair,” Mead said. “Not try to make the money I would have made. I would just like to make-up what I invested.”
Down the avenue at late-20th-century vintage store Generation Cool, owner Slobby Robby Hall was also preparing for a live-streaming sales/entertainment event on Instagram’s IGTV this Friday at 9 p.m. The Slobby’s World star said he’s planning on “going all out” to give his fans what they want.
“We’ll be in there, live, showing off new product and trying to give our customers the experience they’ve come to expect,” Hall said. “We’re just reacting to the lack of business on the street. If we need to move it online, that’s no problem. (Online) was always making money for us.”
Hall said the Tucson store is by appointment only during the pandemic. Hall foresaw the shutdown happening when his Las Vegas store closed its doors on March 11, due to COVID-19 concerns and “a rough couple weeks” of business.
“I anticipated street fair not happening when we shut the doors on (the Las Vegas location),” Hall said. “I knew we’d be missing out on that money probably a week before it was announced.”
But Hall said he isn’t too concerned, at least at the moment, as long as the internet is connected. Online sales have been Generation Cool’s bread and butter during slow, summer months in Tucson. Hall’s hopes online sales keep going strong, he said.
“We’re preparing for the worst, hoping for the best and having fun in the meantime,” Hall said.