Kelly Malone of Workshop PGH talks putting her business before her health during COVID-19 crisis | Pittsburgh City Paper

Kelly Malone of Workshop PGH talks putting her business before her health during COVID-19 crisis

click to enlarge Kelly Malone of Workshop PGH talks putting her business before her health during COVID-19 crisis
Photo: Ace Hotel
Kelly Malone at her punch needle art show at the Ace Hotel
Local artist and maker Kelly Malone would do anything to help her business, Workshop PGH, survive the COVID-19 response. The do-it-yourself school and shop in Garfield, where staff members teach sewing, woodworking, fiber and textile arts, leatherworking, and more, has especially struggled because of how much it depends on face-to-face interactions. While some operations have shifted online, including a handful of classes and sales of punch-needle, dying, and growing kits people can buy and do during self-isolation, Malone believes it might not be enough.

Pittsburgh City Paper spoke to Malone about keeping a small business afloat during the pandemic and how it has affected her relationship with the community.

When did you close the Workshop space? I'm seeing March 16 on Facebook but want to make sure it's accurate.
Sounds right!

Were you able to move a lot of classes and workshops online? Are there some you can't do virtually?
Most of our classes we aren’t able to do online. I tried but there were a lot of challenges. Being alone on this all was the main hurdle. I had the ideas but the execution was hard and also just with this all being emotional and challenging, I had a hard time being “on” enough to be able to commit to a class. Learning the technology, getting supplies when suppliers are closed — it's all been way harder in execution than expected. A few classes have worked well, and more so, just doing videos on media has really kept our followers engaged and earned a lot of new ones. It’s been quite an experience.

Do you feel like you've had to modify classes in response to the virus, such as making masks?
We have had to make mask-making a focus. We’ve offered a lot online about it at both locations — from videos to resources to giving way free kits every day on our windows.

How are you continuing to support the artists and makers you work with?
We give as much as we can. Sadly, money ran out fast and we just started to break even this year. I’ve gotten creative with some fundraisers and donations; people have been supportive, which has helped us be able to pay our main support staff some sick pay. I’ve also just tried to pick up groceries or lunch and little things to keep their spirits up and help how I can. I started working as a Shipt driver to help pay rent and just make sure we don’t lose our space.
click to enlarge Kelly Malone of Workshop PGH talks putting her business before her health during COVID-19 crisis
Photo: Matt Plazek
Woodworking at Workshop PGH
Have you applied for or requested other funds to keep Workshop going (I noticed a post about a Kiva loan)? How successful have these efforts been so far?
I have, but honestly, it’s super overwhelming and there seems to be more talk and promises than action. Locally, there is a lot of smaller support but federally, it’s seemed as though there would be a lot of support, and I’ve been turned down for everything or haven’t heard back. I think also, as an artist and someone who has forgone a salary myself to invest in the staff and business, I don’t have the credit or meet all the requirements of a lot of loans. So Kiva, Square Capital loans, working as much as I can, and community fundraisers seem like my only avenue.

How has the virus changed your life? You mentioned delivering groceries  are you doing that to generate income?
The virus changed everything. I just started to get to a good place and be able to pay myself soon and it all came crashing down. I was out of money in three weeks and our sales went down even at the end of February as this hit the news. We’re down almost $15,000 in five weeks and have a $2,800 rent with our commercial business taxes added in and we pay that so we can be on Penn Ave. and continue being a part of First Friday (our favorite). So it’s scary to cover that by driving groceries. I am high-risk medically [Malone is immunocompromised due to several medical issues], but don’t have a choice but to work, putting my business before my health.

Some days I work Shipt from when Target opens till it closes, carrying groceries up stairs over and over again. Then I start doing Workshop work at night, preparing the next day's media and making kits till 2 or 3 a.m. many nights.

Something flipped and I went into overdrive because I can’t depend on the government and have employees that need this job. I need this place. So I’ll do what it takes to make it work. Between this location and [the one in] San Francisco, there are almost 60 employees who depend on me. I also am trying to just get creative with DIY kits, online sales, and anything I can to keep this place going.

I’ve also made the commitment to do good things for our community and I’ve never felt like this before. I am hitting bottom but at the same time so inspired to help and do things to bring joy. I am scared for my business and family but also for my community. Every day I put out 40 to 50 bags of free craft supplies, mask kits, and give out free lunches on Fridays that I fundraise for. It’s a hard time, but I also think the way people have helped us and given me hope makes me want to pay it forward and focus on others when I’m not working. It’s been a humbling and life-changing experience. I get a little jealous when I see friends watching TV and gardening, but I love Workshop and it’s an extension of me. So it’s all worth it.

In your experience, have local and state governments done enough to provide relief to small businesses and people working in the arts sector? If not, what do you think they could do differently?
I think people are. Private citizens. Customers. Neighbors and local art organizations. Even local organizations like the Bloomfield Garfield Corp. are also supporting businesses. Pittsburgh has been very supportive.

However, the government and state seem overwhelmed and inaccessible, to be honest. I can’t bank on anything except what’s in my control. So that means just working as hard as I can every day. It’s a full-time job just figuring out loans and applications, none of which has panned out or I don’t meet requirements, outside of Kiva, which was funded in seven hours. That shows the support here we can depend on is our community and we will all be carrying each other through this, not the government.


Please visit the Workshop PGH website where you can support the space by buying gift certificates or kits, or making a donation. You can also purchase a handmade candle for the Workshop PGH staff relief fund.