SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — In the early days of the state’s stay-at-home order, photographer Kristi Mitchell’s initial inclination was to capture the strange moment in time through her lens.
“I had come down to my studio, which is on the corner of Fifth and Monroe,” Mitchell recalls. “And it just seemed so different. The parking lots were empty, Long Nine Junction, which is one of my favorite lunch places, closed. It caught my eye and it was very eerie to me – this was my city, and look how different it looked.”
Though her initial focus was on the empty stores and empty parking lots, it would soon morph into something bigger — an effort to promote local small businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mitchell said the idea was prompted by the fact that she did not know that one of her favorite downtown breweries, Buzz Bomb Brewing Co., was doing delivery and carryout service during the shutdown.
“I didn’t realize that they were delivering and I was like, well, if I didn’t realize that they were delivering, maybe nobody did,” she said. “So then I started getting that idea like, well, maybe I’ll start highlighting them and doing the porch picture from the business sense.”
Mitchell brought the idea to Downtown Springfield, Inc. executive director Lisa Clemmons Stott, who reached out to downtown small businesses. Stott said “everybody kind of raised their hand and said, ‘yes, I’d love to be a part of it.’”
With that, Mitchell’s “This is Springfield” portrait series was born.
Nearly every day since April 10, the series has highlighted a small business in Springfield.
Typically, the posts — featured on the social media accounts of Mitchell and DSI — include a portrait of a person in front of their business, details about that business and how they are making it through these challenging times.
Mitchell then gives each small business owner access to the pictures from their shoot, pro bono, suggesting that they can be used for headshots or their websites.
“It’s basically to help all these businesses,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to ever come back after this stay-at-home order and not have these stores, not have these restaurants that I can walk to or be a part of. This is an amazing community.”
Last Thursday, Mitchell was behind the camera shooting her 21st portrait, which featured Wild Rose owner Monica Zanetti, her husband Jeremy Reed and their two children.
Even as she remained upbeat and posed playfully for the camera, Zanetti acknowledged that it’s a tough time for small businesses.
“Right now, we’re just squeaking by, like we’re not making any profit,” she said. “I’m giving everything back to our artists. I told my artists as long as you stay with me, I will switch it up.”
Part of switching it up includes creating a website for the artisan boutique, allowing them to sell products online and making those products available for pickup or delivery even as the shop remains closed to walk-in customers.
All the information about the website was included in Mitchell’s post on the boutique, which dropped Friday afternoon.
“Even if someone’s been buying just one item, I go deliver it the next day if it’s local,” Zanetti said. “So it’s really been helping keep us afloat.”
Many business owners portrayed similarly plugged their websites and deals they’re offering now. Some spoke of the renovations they’ve taken the opportunity to make.
Stott said the series is important in “making sure that people don’t forget that there’s a face behind the business and there’s a person behind the business,” hoping that it encourages people to continue to buy local as government assistance alone will not be enough.
“So each time somebody buys a gift certificate or buys a meal from a downtown business, it (not) just helps them from a financial perspective, but from a morale perspective, too, as they look forward to the coming months to try to figure out how they can stay in business.”
Mitchell said the project has taken her mind off the uncertainty created by the pandemic. Her eponymous photography business, which specializes in weddings, families, engagements and seniors, “definitely took a huge hit and it got very scary” in March, she said.
“That was another thing with this project: it got me behind my camera again,” Mitchell said. “I think for a few weeks (COVID-19) made me nervous and I just feel so comfortable behind my camera that this got me still working and staying positive. I mean, me sitting at home worrying about it wasn’t doing anything, so I needed to do something.”
Mitchell said she will likely continue the series through the remainder of the pandemic.
Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/2Ac0n6i
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