By Amanda Kuhnert
“Covid-19 made us re-evaluate what was important to us and what we really wanted to be doing,” said Jessie Alon, co-owner of DaVallia Gallery & Boutique in Chester, Vt. Before the pandemic, Jessie and her husband Michael were operating two business locations—an art gallery in Chester’s historic stone village and a boutique on the village green. They had often considered merging the two businesses, but the timing never felt right.
After the mandatory state shutdown last spring, due to Covid-19, Jessie and Michael shifted their focus from day-to-day operations to boosting online sales. “We responded with swift marketing to our loyal clientele,” Jessie said. They sent out e-newsletters, made phone calls, and set up free shipping for their online store. All of the hard work paid off. Online sales quickly grew to match the pre-Covid-19 revenue from the boutique, enabling the couple to close the boutique and consolidate both businesses into one location.
Along with a selection of gifts and jewelry, the “new” space sells everything you could possibly need to furnish a home, from paintings and sculptures by over a dozen New England artists to handcrafted accessories. The store’s collection includes Michael’s custom furniture made with reclaimed wood and Jessie’s line of artisan jewelry. “As artists and designers, we carefully select and curate works that are displayed in lifestyle settings,” Jessie said. “We are able to help clients select and envision pieces in their homes. Helping others live artfully is what we are passionate about, and we share that passion and knowledge with others.”
Like many parts of Vermont, the Chester area has seen an uptick in real-estate sales since the onset of the pandemic. Jessie and Michael have enjoyed helping these new homeowners turn recently purchased properties into homes, whether through a home makeover or by simply adding a few personal touches. Longtime homeowners also have helped boost sales at the gallery and boutique. Now that people are spending more time at home due to Covid-19, they have a renewed interest in improving the look and feel of their interior spaces.
Navigating the bumps in the road
Jessie and Michael embarked on their business adventure soon after the 2008 recession, in a struggling economy. Neither of them had previous business experience—Michael had recently left a job in automotive photography after discovering a passion for woodworking, and Jessie was transitioning from teaching art to becoming an independent artist. They had a shared vision and passion for curating beautiful spaces, but they needed advice and guidance to build a business that would succeed.
Soon after opening the gallery, Jessie and Michael began meeting with Debra Boudrieau, a business advisor with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC). Boudrieau works with entrepreneurs in Windham and Windsor counties at all stages of business development, from startups to existing businesses with room for growth. “Debra has been our adviser at the VtSBDC for 10 years now,” Jessie said. “Her knowledge and expertise has helped our business grow.”
Like most VtSBDC advisors, Debra is in it for the long haul. She guides her clients through whatever initially brought them to the VtSBDC, but then continues to be a resource as future challenges and questions arise. The Covid-19 crisis is a timely example of this ongoing partnership between Vermont business owners and the VtSBDC.
“Debra and the team at VtSBDC have worked so hard helping small businesses like us navigate through Covid-19,” Jessie said. “With so much new information coming in daily, Debra has kept us on track to what we need to know and what tools are available for our business.”
Looking for more? Visit VtSBDC.org to explore resources or connect with an advisor.