When the governors of Kentucky and Ohio shut down their states in March to try and quell the coronavirus, Rudy Harris know things were going to be bad for small businesses.
The owner of a young small business himself, Harris wanted to do something to help others like him who, for an uncertain period of time, would be facing the prospect of no income, or at least a steep cut in revenue.
Harris and his wife, Tammi, own Harris Media, a video and photography shop in Newport that creates video and images to help small firms market themselves.
Faced with a loss of business and the uncertainty of knowing when the shutdown would end, they wanted to do something. But what?
“We realized that we can’t make vaccines and we can’t make medicines and were not doctors,” Harris says. “So the only way that we can help support in this situation is do what we do best and that’s making content and that’s making video.”
That was the start of a video project called “Saving Small,” which turned out to be a snapshot in time. With businesses now beginning to cautiously reopen, Saving Small is a documentary record of small-business owners coping with a problem they had never anticipated: an out-of-control virus that caused the economy to essentially come to a halt.
Although Northern Kentucky has been largely spared the civil unrest gripping Cincinnati and other cities, the tension surrounding the protests has added another element of uncertainty to what the entrepreneurs have already faced.
Videos of 13 small business owners (including Rudy Harris) were posted to the Harris Media Facebook page as a way to bring awareness to the impact of the lockdown on their livelihoods and to let people know what they could do to help.
The businesses ranged from a boutique clothing maker to a wedding photographer to a restaurant, but there was a similar thread through all the stories.
“The common theme that everyone of them expressed is that after the relentless pursuit of years of work, something that is 100 percent outside of your control is just drying up your business,” Harris says.
They are people like Mallory Muddiman, who owns the clothing brand Mallory, a line of colorful, lighthearted apparel made at her home studio. “The question is, when I launch it, will it sell?” she says. “If not, then I’m in trouble. Are people ready for a frivolous purchase like clothes right now?” she wonders.
There is Brad Wainscott, owner of Libby’s Southern Comfort, a Covington restaurant named after his 9-year-old daughter. “It’s all we talk about; it’s all we do,” he says of the business. “I’ve been through a lot in my life and this is by far the strangest and most nerve-wracking thing.”
And Stephanie Tieman, owner of CoreStrong, a Covington personal training business and gym, which have been among the last categories of businesses to reopen. “Every day I think, are we going to survive this,” she says. “There’s so much unknown.”
Harris and his wife, a photographer by training, started their business a few months before they were married in 2011, after Rudy was fired from his job at a downtown Cincinnati video company.
Although business has suffered during the downturn, he’s staying positive and quoting his favorite song, “A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains,” by the Philadelphia-based rock band mewithoutYou.
“We like to spill positivity,” he says.
Continued COVID-19 coverage has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, a program run in partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Local Media Association.