HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous for the economy with multiple business restrictions and shutdowns including a six-week quarantine. It has especially been tough on small locally-owned businesses with little reserve funding. In pre-pandemic times these businesses operated on a thin profit margin and would anticipate when their slow seasonal times were and plan to make up for it with higher volume seasonal sales. Many small businesses have closed their doors permanently, while others continue to struggle to survive.
Despite hard times and an uncertain future, some entrepreneurs have opened new businesses or revived existing businesses. Julie's Pins & Needles and Ms. Jeanne's Hair & Co. are two entirely different business with the same goal—persevering to successfully come through the pandemic.
Julie's Pins & Needles opened for business in May 2014 on Main Street in Alachua. Owner Julie Tucker had wanted to open a quilting store in High Springs, but at the time there were no good locations. Tucker spent her career as an animal nurse caring for everything from dogs and horses to dolphins, and she had also been a quilter for years and sewing for as long as she can remember.
Quilters are a tightknit hobby society, corresponding with others throughout the country and internationally. When Tucker retired, she opened her quilting parlor to create a space for quilters to find supplies and also exchange ideas with quilters locally and visitors from throughout the world. In addition, she also taught classes for beginners and intermediate level sewers and made or repaired quilts for clients.
In December 2019 Tucker found a place closer to home and moved the shop to High Springs, opening in February after it was renovated. She didn't plan on opening a new business during a pandemic. “We were open for two weeks, with people just recognizing our business location and our regulars finding us when the state-wide shutdown occurred. In store business and visiting quilters from other areas disappeared in an instant,” Tucker said.
“We had to reinvent our way of working and survived the shutdown by making masks for individuals and hospitals and online ‘no contact’ sales, placing the orders outside for customers to pick up,” said Tucker. “We got by, but are just beginning to see business return. It’s almost like opening a new business all over again. But overall, the quilting business took a hard hit and a lot of stores have closed down including Suwannee River Quilt in Trenton,” she said.
Quilters prefer a lot of fabric choices and often visit shops when traveling, which accounted for much of Tucker’s business. Because quilters like to have a variety of fabrics to work from, they maintain a surplus selection referred to as a “stash.”
All of these factors affected her business. “Due to the pandemic, we aren't seeing any travelers, and many of our regulars are elderly and more cautious about going out in the current conditions,” said Tucker. “Many quilters are just going through their “stash” and not buying fabric or supplies.” Tucker explained that the store closing in Trenton compounded the problem since they had to liquidate a huge fabric stockpile when they closed at discount prices.
“However, we are beginning to see more business as locals use up their stashes and we are expanding our services,” said Tucker. “We haven't started classes yet but will as soon as allowed by the state.”
In addition to fabric and supplies sales, Julie's Pins and Needles offers other services. The shop is equipped with a long arm sewing machine, which is used to sew together a quilt top, quilt batting and quilt backing into a finished quilt. The longarm sewing machine frame typically ranges from 10 feet to 14 feet in length. With this machine Tucker and her staff can make quilts for clients or repair existing ones in a much shorter and less costly time.
Tucker specializes in repairing heirloom quilts and hers is the only store in a multi-state area that does work on these family heirlooms, which are typically more than 75 years old.
Tucker also works on Memory quilts. These are quilts made from cloth or items that have a special memory for the customer, often comprised of clothing from a deceased loved one. “It’s interesting to do the Memory quilts. You often get to know the personality of the person they are in memory of, based on the items,” said Tucker. “
Julies Pins and Needles is now fully open for in-store business as well as website sales and is located at 18646 Main Street, Suite 10, High Springs. They can also be contacted by phone at 904-214-6633 or email at email@example.com
Ms. Jeanne's Hair & Co.is located next door to Julie’s Pins and Needles and is a new business that opened as the restrictions eased. Located in a small standalone building facing U.S. Highway 27, Ms. Jeanne's Hair & Co. specializes in men and boys’ haircuts.
Jeanne Hodges is a licensed cosmologist and a barber of 24 years, always working for someone else. She was a barbershop manager in Brooksville when she met her husband, a sergeant in the National Guard who worked with a black hawk helicopter unit in Brooksville.
Todd Hodges was originally from High Springs and convinced Jeanne to move with him back to his hometown when he was transferred to Cecil Field in Jacksonville.
While Jeanne Hodges had always wanted to open her own shop, the opportunity never seemed right. “After we moved up here, we were having ice cream at the shop across the street during the shutdown and noticed this vacant renovated building across the street,” she said.
That building had been known for years as the Adventure Outpost, but it had closed the year before and the landlords totally renovate it.
“I had always dreamed of opening my own shop, but didn't plan on making such a decision during the pandemic, but we decided to take a chance,” said Jeanne Hodges. “When God provides an opportunity, you don't want to waste it, so we went for it.”
As it turns out, the pandemic gave them the time to turn the building into a two-chair barbershop that was ready to open as soon as the state allowed. “The regulations for opening didn't really affect our industry as far as health and sanitation, since the industry is already heavily regulated on sanitation and disinfecting between customers,” said Jeanne Hodges. “The main restrictions for us dealt with masks and social distancing.”
Other restrictions included having only one customer in the building at a time and to have 15 minutes between each customer, meaning they would work by appointment only, with no walk-ins. “This is still in place but may change as restrictions are lifted,” Hodges said.
She also said that business has picked up and she is getting repeat customers. “I feel it’s going well and it was a good decision. I finally have my own business.”
The Hodges intend to make High Springs their permanent home, and when Todd Hodges retires from a 20-year Army career, he has another career planned—he wants to become a barber.
Ms. Jeanne's Hair & Co. is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and open until 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. On Saturday she is open 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The shop is located in downtown High Springs next to the Women's Club at 23652 U.S. Highway 27. Appointments can be made by calling 386-454-0220.
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