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story.lead_photo.caption Barb Willems, right, co-owner of COMO Scents and More, talks to Jessica Porter about the products offered by the business at Sunday's Capital Mall Trade Days. Photo by Gerry Tritz / News Tribune.

With the COVID-19 pandemic creating a tough business environment, some small businesses have turned to a new sales outlet that isn't so new: the mall.

Capital Mall on Saturday and Sunday held its monthly Trade Days, a marketplace for vendors to peddle products from home-based businesses, crafts and services.

Dennis and Barb Willems of COMO Scents and More had a booth at Center Court, selling their candles, scents, warmers, wax melts, diffusers and other items.

They're used to traveling to various events to sell their product, but this year threw them a curve.

"We had 17 events scheduled from February to May. All of them got canceled," Dennis Willems said.

Their business has struggled this year, he said. Fortunately, they're retired and don't rely on it as a source of income.

"We just take it day by day," Dennis Willems said.

Barb, his wife, said they're in the business because they love the products and they love the people.

"You have to really love your products," she said, adding they enjoy traveling and meeting new people.

"We've made many, many friends," she said.

Customer Liz Graham, who was shopping at the business Sunday, said she loves the products. The soy candles are pure and the scents "are just heavenly," she said.

Elizabeth Coffman, owner of Avon Fundraising, has been selling Avon products since 2000 and said the pandemic has actually helped her business.

"I think a lot of people, because of the pandemic, are scared to get out, so I'm trying to market to people who could sell at home to their friends," she said.

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The former seamstress also sells hand-sewn pillows for $10.99. She uses the profits to buy supplies to make more pillows to give to blind people.

Mae Benson was another of the approximately half-dozen vendors there Sunday. Her business, Benson's Neolife Nutrition, sells Neolife whole foods and supplements, as well as home-baked goods made from whole grains.

A medical study has shown that removing the outer husk of grains contributes to chronic fatigue, she said.

The pandemic has helped her business as well.

"It's boosted it because we have immune-enhancing supplements," she said.

She said traffic Sunday was slow, but that it's typically a good event for vendors.

Capital Mall Trade Days is held monthly. Booth spaces are $40, and the mall supplies an 8-foot table and two chairs for each vendor. The next event is set for Nov. 21-22.

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