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Editor's note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the News Tribune is temporarily widening the scope of the BizBeat column to not only highlight businesses opening and closing but also feature ways local businesses are adjusting to the situation.
When friends and family called Lizzie Harlan, they anticipated the J Street Vintage owner to be in a state of panic, struggling to weather the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, Harlan reassured her friends the antique shop was doing more than just staying afloat — it was thriving.
Through its new online auctions, J Street Vintage has seen a jump in sales during the pandemic.
Harlan started the Facebook auctions shortly after closing the store to the public in early March.
She uploads 60-100 photos of auction items to a Facebook album every week. Each photo contains information about the item, the starting bid and how long the auction will last.
Customers can place their bids in the comments of individual items. The auctions run from Wednesday night to Sunday night.
"It's been a fun way to market to people who don't always get out of the house or people who don't even know they're looking for something until they see them," said Harlan, who purchased J Street Vintage last fall. "Some of our items are so unique that they strike a memory, so sometimes items that we might sell in the store for $20, they might go up into the $40s or $50s."
With the online auctions, Harlan was able to surpass sales from January and February, the store's worst months normally.
"If you can beat your worst months during a pandemic, I think that says a lot," she said. "For us at J Street Vintage, we are not one penny behind what we should be. I can honestly say it's because of the auctions and our customers."
Choking back tears, Harlan said she was "blessed" to have dedicated customers. Some customers were double and triple bidding on auction items.
"I'll ask them if that was a typo, and they're like, 'Nope, we just wanted to make sure you knew how much we love you,'" Harlan said, her voice cracking. "Having customers who do that because of me, not because I have good stuff but because they love me, that's a whole different level."
Some customers have carloads of items waiting for them, Harlan said. J Street Vintage, at 615 Jefferson St., offers contactless curbside pickup.
Even before the online auctions, customers stepped up to help the small antique shop.
After Harlan used her emergency funds to pay the mortgage, she created a "sympathy post" on Facebook asking customers to purchase large items like hutches and desks. J Street Vintage sold all the items in an hour.
"That just paid our bills for the month, not the mortgage or vendors, but I knew at that point, it felt like a weight was taken off my shoulders," she said.
The customers aren't the only ones who placed their trust in Harlan.
After temporarily closing in March, Harlan gave her vendors the option to relocate to a different store. All of them refused the offer.
Some vendors have even doubled or tripled their sales because of the online auctions, she said.
Due to the success of the online auctions, Harlan plans to continue them even after the pandemic.
"Why stick with Plan A when Plan B can be better?" she said. "Plan A was my dream when I bought the shop but when that dream kind of got halted in March and I had Plan B, this was better. It was really neat that it changed us for the better, and I didn't even realize it was happening."
Harlan said she is not sure when she will reopen to walk-in traffic. When she does, it will be by appointment only.
When customers return to J Street Vintage, they will notice an addition to the shop — the antique store will open its upstairs area and offer upcycling products, she said.
Harlan said she is eager to see her customers in the store again so she can thank them.
"I can post stuff online all day and no one buys it," she said. "It's the customers who buy it, so it's not the auctions that did it but the customers that trusted us."
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