Lindsey Eisenmann was recommending her new favorite drink, the sweet potato pie latte, to a customer from behind the counter at Culture Coffee Saturday morning in The Seven Apartments of Oklahoma City. It had only been a couple of hours since doors opened, but Eisenmann said she had already served about 50 customers.
“It’s a great space with really good vibes here, and we have a really good creative team that offers up so many good things to try that a lot of other coffee shops don’t have,” said Eisenmann, who fulfills some managerial duties at Culture Coffee.
Some of the customers who came through the shop that morning were clearly regulars, sitting in café couches and countertop long chairs with their laptops and books. Others said they had come through to look at discounted “For The Culture” T-shirts and hoodies being sold for 50% off for Black Friday. Others said they were there to support the business for the nationwide event #ShopSmallSaturday.
Eisenmann was hired only mere months after Culture Coffee first opened in February 2020, started by Tori Beechum, who oversees the shop, and her parents, Donny and Tonya Beechum. One month after launching, the pandemic threatened to derail the coffee shop, along with every other industry. But Eisenmann said the Beechums, who say the shop is Oklahoma City’s first Black-owned coffee shop, took care of the employees.
“The owners are good people and looked out for our well-being,” Eisenmann said. “They made sure we got good pay, made sure that we stayed safe and healthy, and we made it through it.”
Small businesses were among the earliest to feel the economic hardship last year wrought by COVID-19, and many of them did not survive the shutdowns imposed that spring.
Jenny Cooper has been running J. Lilly’s Boutique in Oklahoma City’s Nicoma Park for 11 years, but the past two years have been especially stressful. She credits the store’s pandemic survival to her ability to quickly adapt to online shopping offers and her community’s willingness to rally for the store’s support.
“I feel like people were trying to keep the local mom-and-pop stores open,” Cooper said. “We’ve been here for so long but I feel like we’re unique to this area, because there’s not other little shops like this in the outskirts of Oklahoma City, so people really want a place like this so they can shop around. It was a struggle but we got through it.”
Cooper’s parents own the B&B Auto Recyclers shop right across the street, and she said she inherited their entrepreneurial spirit.
“When you’re a small business owner, you’re everything from the boss and the accountant to the janitor and the cashier,” Cooper said.
J. Lilly’s Boutique offers trendy and affordable clothing for women, along with shoes, jewelry and other accessories. For the Small Business Saturday event, the shop was offering discounts and gift card giveaways.
“We do sometimes carry special occasion, but it’s more something that you can wear every day and be comfy in it while still looking stylish and put together by the day’s end,” Cooper said. “I know that, when I come to work every day, I’m very casual, but I have to be. My youngest is a 2-year-old, so I have to be able to run after him, but I still want to feel cute when I’m wearing my clothes, and that’s what I wanted to offer to other moms.”
Cooper has a staff of five, and when they arrived at the shop Saturday morning, there was a line at the door.
“Every Small Business Saturday, people are here ready to shop, first thing in the morning,” Cooper said. “You have a group of people, a crowd, and then it just stays steady throughout the day.”
By noon, about 50 customers had visited the boutique in-person.
“We are in a location that’s not a retail destination, so if you’re coming here, you’re coming here intentionally,” Cooper said.
The Learning Tree, a specialty shop in the Wilshire Village strip mall of Nichols Hills, sells children’s toys, books and games. Owner Patti Tepper-Rasmussen said the store has benefited from the #ShopSmall movement and a core following of loyal customers.
“Our sales have definitely increased, and I think it’s because people are paying attention to shopping local,” Tepper-Rasmussen said. “This is the best year we’ve ever had in the 36 years we’ve been in this plaza, and I really believe it’s because people want to come in and actually touch things instead of ordering online and taking their chances.”
For #ShopSmallSaturday, every item in The Learning Tree was discounted 20%, in exchange for eschewing the usual in-store wrapping that specific business day.
Scooters were also a big hit at The Learning Tree, as were toy dinosaurs, backyard slacklines, arts and crafts, and rocks and minerals kits.
Tepper-Rasmussen said the shop closed down during March and April 2020, before reopening with an in-store mask mandate and a curbside service.
“It drove us crazy, but it sustained us,” she said. “We got through it. We’ve done better these past two years than we had the rest of the life of the store.”
Jake Keyes, CEO of the Skydance Brewing Co. located in Automobile Alley, said it was the legacy of family that informed his own decision to open Oklahoma’s first Native American-owned brewery. Keyes’ father had taught him how to brew as a child, and it was his father’s death that motivated him to act on his plans for Skydance.
“He’d probably be speechless right now,” Keyes said. “I don’t know if he’d have the words.”
Keyes said sales at the brewery have been better than he could have ever expected, since the location’s grand opening in early October.
“We’ve been busy trying to keep up with all of the business in the taproom,” Keyes said Saturday afternoon as he was preparing for a surge in foot traffic from the Bedlam football game later that evening.
More: OKC’s first Native American-owned brewery opens new location in Automobile Alley
On Black Friday, Skydance hosted a special event for a new beer it had launched, in collaboration with Bow and Arrow Brewing Co., based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“The place can hold around 125 people, so we were packed,” Keyes said. “There wasn’t an empty seat in the house.”
The new India pale ale, called Native Land, was launched at the event, alongside fried bread and soups from Native recipes.
“As soon as we’d put the bread in the bowl, it was gone,” Keyes said. “But it was a learning experience for our non-Native customers who’d never had fried bread before. They had a good time while tasting and learning something new.”
The new beer also served as an opportunity for Skydance staff and customers to educate themselves on Indigenous tribes whose heritage in Oklahoma predates the Trail of Tears.
“When everyone thinks Oklahoma, they think reservations, removal, Indian Country,” Keyes said. “But there were people here before that. We’d always wanted this place to be a hub for our culture, where people could open their eyes to the culture reflected here, and we definitely did that yesterday.”
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