Big changes facing FARMcuriousPosted on Thursday, February 10, 2022 | By Nicole Easterday |
The past two years have been difficult on everyone, but as you probably know, small businesses like FARMcurious have suffered severe and successive blows. Years ago, I made the decision to build up my business up around events. After suffering the 'Amazon effect' in retail, I realized the only thing no one could copy was me. By the beginning of 2020, a huge majority of my income was based on in-person events. I was having the time of my life, had just signed a lease on my beautiful Berkeley space and classes were selling out every weekend. I was so proud of what I had built.
Of course we all know what happened in March of 2020. Business ground to a halt and I did everything I could to keep it alive. Rent was forgiven and government grants were available. Friends and strangers alike stepped up on Patreon to help keep me afloat and I pivoted to making videos and creating virtual events. I even helped a new local natural grocery store open a world-class cheese counter. I did my best to do what I could to keep the ship from sinking.
In May of 2021, we all got vaccinated and we were excited to be around each other again. Classes opened back up and sold out and then Delta came along and business slowed back down again. People started to return in the Fall and then Omicron hit us even harder and business screeched to a halt. Classes were canceled or taught at 1/4 sizes and that's were we are now.
For those of you who have been following closely and already know this reality, please forgive me because I suspect plenty of people don't know the reality of what's been happening and I think it's time to be frank. After a year of forgiving rent for my event space, my very generous and understanding landlord started charging partial rent again in mid-2021 with the expectation that business would be coming back. While we're technically allowed to offer classes now and have taken a ton of measures to keep people safe, the numbers are just not back the way they need to be. This coming June my rent will go back up to the full market amount (which is $1000 more per month than my mortgage!). The numbers don't lie and it's looking like it doesn't make sense to keep that space any longer. This reality has been looming for me and weighing on me for two years and the stress and anxiety it's caused is difficult to quantify.
I've decided I can't continue to guess how long the tail would be on covid, how much I could muddle through just to survive, and how many times I could ride the tiny wave up just to watch it crash down to the bottom again. I've never been a person who was okay with stagnation. I have so many ideas and passions, and sitting on my laurels waiting for something good to happen to me has never been my style. I've decided it's time to take back control of my future, even if it means a slight movement away from what's been my identity for more than a decade. If things continue the way they are, there's a very good chance I'll have to close the Berkeley space at the end of May.
People have been saying over and over "You can't give up" so I think it's important to add that this isn't giving up for me. It's pivoting once again to adjust to this ever-changing environment. Chasing what used to be is neither smart nor fun at this point. I'm choosing to view this as a step in an exciting different direction of my choosing, rather than as a loss.
You might be wondering what this means for FARMcurious. In the very short term, not much. I'll continue doing classes in Berkeley at least through May. If the space closes in June, I will no longer be able to offer Three Cheeses in Three Hours as a public class. Brie & Camembert remains to be seen since the equipment is a little lighter. If you're still holding onto a gift certificate or other credit for one of these classes, I urge you to use it before the end of May. All spring classes are listed now - please reach out to reserve your spot today. If you're unable to take a class before our space closes, I can convert your class credits to standard credits which can be used to shop online or to purchase private events.
Virtual classes, especially for private team-building have been one real bright spot in the shifting sands and I will continue to offer them joyfully!! If the Berkeley location closes, the other parts of this business will continue on. I'll still be building beautiful cheese boards for your celebrations, holding virtual public and private classes as well as select in-person private events in Castro Valley and at wineries, etc. The website and shop will remain up for the foreseeable future as I ride the next few waves and try to read the tea leaves.
There's no way to know what the future holds right now, but I do know that if the event business can't pick back up in the way I need it to in order to be successful, I have a strong personal contingency plan that I'm not ready to discuss publicly yet.
Thanks to all of you who have supported me these last 13(!!!) years to keep this business thriving. It's been (and still is) an honor to bring you amazing cheesy fun and I'm looking forward to sharing this next chapter with you.
None of these decisions have been easy and I thank you in advance for your kindness.
I hope to see you all soon.