Four times a day, Nolan Koskela-Staples sets up his bass. At the same time, he opens Facetime, Zoom or Skype on his MacBook Pro to provide a socially distanced learning environment for his students.
While his spruce and maple wood bass sits in front of him, he pulls up a metronome app on his iPhone to help students keep rhythm, despite the miles between them and the lag from their computers.
This is the new normal for Koskela-Staples. The 28-year-old is a music instructor at Hoggtowne Music, located on 2441 NW 43rd St, one of the many music and art establishments in Gainesville affected by COVID-19. Though it reopened after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ May 4 emergency order, getting business back up and running hasn’t been as easy as just opening doors.
Koskela-Staples moved from Oregon to Gainesville in 2018, he said. After the move, he taught one student from Oregon online.
In Gainesville, he would teach anywhere from four to nine in-person classes a day compared to four online classes since the stay-at-home order began.
While it’s been difficult to find a steady rhythm, Koskela-Staples said he’s impressed with his students’ ability to adapt to changes. Seeing students willing to try new things to explore their passion has been exciting and has provided them with a way to avoid boredom while at home, he said.
“Music has always been a part of my daily life, and that certainly includes coping,” he said. “I’ve been practicing a variety of things, from jazz to Bach to funk-fusion.”
Koskela-Staples has played live music gigs after outdoor and socially distanced venues reopened. However, he feels the need to wait to transition to in-person lessons.
“It's not really feasible to do lessons outside and from a distance, so my hope is that some of my students will be willing to continue with online lessons, even as people are beginning to return to in-person things,” he said
Melonie Dorsey, the co-owner of Hoggtowne Music, said the shop closed with all other Alachua County nonessential businesses on March 24. While closed, the business offered virtual sales over phone, Facebook messenger and email.
Customers picked up orders in the parking lot or outside the door until the shop reopened, she said. Instrument repairs continued throughout the stay-at-home order, but the instruments were dropped off so customers didn’t have to wait inside the shop while they were fixed.
Dorsey was surprised that many clients asked for the same thing during the pandemic: guitar strings.
“Adults that had more time on their hands were turning toward music with restrings and new guitars,” she said. “They did things they've always wanted to start, and the nostalgia of music would just bring them back to better times.”
Hoggtowne moved the store’s location Hunters Crossing to Thornebrook Village Shopping Center in April, Dorsey said. The move added extra stress but also gave furloughed staff an opportunity to work.
While sales and repairs employees have nearly all returned to work, Dorsey is concerned about the music teachers the store employs who have not.
Like Koskela-Staples, most of Hoggtowne’s instructors transitioned classes online the first week after closing, she said. However, fewer than a third of Hoggtowne’s students stayed in classes.
Aside from remote classes and less income, instructors were met with another struggle: unemployment checks. The independently contracted teachers had a very difficult time receiving state unemployment, she said.
Dorsey said she’s also concerned about local students and high school bands.
Hoggtowne provides instruments and lessons for many band students, she said. With a lack of social interaction, many of them have dropped out of the band and some have even returned their instruments.
She hopes that virtual band camps and future in-person practices will reinvigorate students’ love of music.
A bright spot for Hoggtowne has been the excitement and support from the community, she said.
She highlighted one moment in particular when a woman and her daughter came to shop for ukuleles. Dorsey said the woman was delighted by the display and threw her hands in the air in excitement.
Erika Tonnelier, the owner of Cork & Colors Studio, reopened her business May 18, which she describes as “a place to create.” The paint-your-own-pottery and canvas studio opened doors with limited hours: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
While closed, Cork & Colors, located on 3415 West University Ave., offered to-go crafts as an escape from the boredom of quarantine, she said.
Everything at the shop was available for to-go, Tonnelier said. Customers were also given paint in restaurant sauce containers with their pickup. However, the to-go business was not as much of a success as she had hoped.
“I think what I actually realized from it is that people want to be in this space, and there's something very different about taking it home and doing it at home,” Tonnelier said. “It's not the whole environment—we're community people.”
Tonnelier, an artist herself, said she found it difficult to find creative outlets during quarantine.
“I will say that it was a very weird time, and I did not feel particularly inspired,” she said. “I know like a lot of other creative people have said similar things, but doing our best even if it might not have been our most inspirational moment.”
The shop will offer summer camps, she said. While campers will be a socially distanced group of six, Tonnelier hopes these camps will provide a sense of community for creative young people.
“It's less communal with the materials that we're sharing, so each kid has their own table and their space, but they're still talking to each other,” she said.
The Repurpose Project, located on 1920 NE 23rd Ave., strives to reduce waste through recycling thrifted materials into artwork, said Executive Director Sarah Goff.
Its salvage yard, where customers can purchase low-price materials for their work, reopened Tuesday, she said. As of now, clients can only pick up pieces for their projects.
Goff said she doesn’t know when the indoor part of the store, which houses art supplies and tools, will reopen. While the organization made no revenue while the doors were closed, it still received requests from regulars looking to start new art projects during quarantine.
“I, personally, worked on a few art projects from my house,” she said. “I know we've been getting a lot of requests because people have extra time to make new things.”
The project’s entire staff was furloughed, Goff said. While some have returned, there is too little revenue to determine when they will be rehired.
However, staff members who returned on Tuesday were excited to see familiar faces, even if they were behind masks, she said.
“We're also doing a lot, as far as giving back to the community, because low income community members are able to get a lot of things that they wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford,” she said. “So we're helping the environment but also doing a lot for the community and giving them the resources they need, so it feels good on a lot of levels.”
Hoggtowne students and teachers can now return to in-person lessons, as long as they wear masks or social distance.