It goes without saying that the last year has been difficult. Everyone experienced hardships. As a small-business owner, I was no exception. Now, as businesses return to normal operations, it is important that all of us do our part to ensure a strong recovery by shopping small and local and by supporting those businesses that weathered the storm of the pandemic.

My business, Duluth Studio Market, had its share of ups and downs over the course of 2020. In February last year, as a News Tribune story reported, we were planning to open a new location for our commercial photography and videography production business, with room for a local “makers market” to showcase and sell locally produced goods. However, once the pandemic hit and quarantines were announced, my commercial business dried up: Contracts were canceled, and photoshoots were indefinitely postponed.

But, after a lot of thought and soul-searching, we decided to move forward with our initial idea and open our makers market sooner than planned. My husband and I spent months “in quarantine” renovating our new space, a 100-year-old building, and sharing our progress on Instagram and Facebook. The online following of nearly 3,000 people we built from in-progress posts was inspiring and gave us hope for our new business venture. We envisioned a marketplace for local artists and makers with an emphasis on women artists and fair trade and sustainability.

We finally opened Duluth Studio Market on July 15, 2020, and the response from our community was amazing. Despite the many difficulties of the pandemic, it is so gratifying to see customers in the store again, telling us how they found us on Instagram and had to see the place in person. It brought a sense of community and connection during a time that felt lonely for so many of us.

What I didn’t expect was how important the Duluth Studio Market became to our local — and even global — makers. The majority of our makers are women, and the pandemic hit women and mothers especially hard, with many losing their jobs or having to give them up in order to stay home with their kids.

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For many women makers, the Duluth Studio Market became their only source of income. And the fair-trade goods we ordered from all over the globe are also predominantly made by women. I know they needed our orders just as much as our local makers did. It is incredibly humbling to realize that something we did as a new business venture became a lifeline for so many amazing artists and makers.

We are so grateful to the community that helped our small business make it through this pandemic year. Providing this platform and income for our local makers became that silver lining, and we hope to be able to continue providing it. Even as we get vaccinated and begin to return to some idea of normal, small businesses, especially women-owned businesses, need your support.

As the weather warms up and we begin to feel more comfortable with in-person shopping, I encourage everyone to get out and to continue to support your local businesses. Knowing that your purchase supports other women and mothers in our community and around the world is something we should all feel good about.

In July, we will celebrate our one-year anniversary. We could not have made it to this milestone without community support. We extend our gratitude and thanks to local Duluth shoppers for their support this past year and beyond.

Stacey LaCoursiere is the owner of Duluth Studio Market and founder of Duluth Studio Company.