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Pandemic Success Story: Indiana Woman Opens Brick And Mortar Soap Boutique

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Sara Rhoades is an artist in Evansville, Ind., whose medium is soap.

SARA RHOADES: This is my bestselling selling soap, blackberry vanilla. Once that chemical reaction starts, it's go time. I've got to get 40 pounds of this liquid into these molds - that swirling of the colors and the making it almost like a painting.

SIMON: Sara Rhoades is also a business owner. And for 15 years, she's sold those soaps and other products she's made by hand. And like so many business owners, when the pandemic hit last spring, lockdowns and health restrictions were bad for business.

RHOADES: Several of the retailers that I wholesale my soap, jewelry, and candles to closed. You know, that was kind of terrifying because I knew if I can't sell my work in these stores that I've built relationships with, my income is gone.

SIMON: Soap seemed like something people would want during a public health crisis. But with children at home and a mortgage to pay, Sara Rhoades realized she'd need to improvise. So she redesigned her logo, sold T-shirts and looked for other ways to reach customers.

RHOADES: I tried to do farmers' markets and events, but my anxiety of other people not, you know, wearing masks made that impossible for me to continue doing. I cried all the way home the very first day, and I decided that night I'm like, I'm not going to take this chance. I have two small children. I have, you know, parents that I love that I want to keep safe.

A different month, I did one event outside my home. So it was a beautiful Saturday. I actually have this beautiful deck in the backyard. And I pulled all of my stuff outside. Everybody was told, wear a mask, distance. Over and over again, people that came to that event, they said, I really wish you had a store. And we had wanted to open a store this year, but COVID was scary. But that weekend planted a seed that maybe it was time to take a chance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RHOADES: I literally built a store from scratch in 30 days. I actually found this location that used to be a gelato shop. And so it's got this really kind of cute ice cream vibe already. It has a full kitchen in it so I can make my products.

You know, the store is wonderful because I've had a couple of times where I've had a customer inside the store, you know, always masked and healthy and distancing, but I also have an area where people can kind of, you know, come and pick up their orders so that they don't have to come in the store at all. They can call me. I can run them out to the car.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RHOADES: The community supported what I was doing, and I doubled sales - just so much love.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RHOADES: My sense of purpose has changed. I kind of had this sole purpose of I make my art, I sell my art, I pay my bills. But I could not have done any of this without the community giving me so much support. I have a responsibility to grow my business in a way that helps others. For instance, I am selling about 15 other artists' work in my store - pottery, glass work. And being able to send these artists a check at the end of the month or send them work to keep them going gives me purpose. If we all kind of thought that way of helping one another, I think the world would be more joyful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Sara Rhoades, an artist and owner of The Confectionery boutique in Evansville, Ind. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.