When the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Austin in spring 2020, local businesses small and large were impacted. Many businesses closed their doors, but others sought support to continue operations and keep their people working. One of these businesses was Austin Creative Reuse (ACR), a nonprofit with a mission to foster conservation and reuse through creativity, education, and community building.
ACR operates a creative reuse center in East Austin, selling gently used creative materials donated from residents and businesses. ACR also offers workshops to educate Austinites about reuse and helps promote local artists, said Jenn Evans, Executive Director.
“Just as the pandemic hit, we expanded into a new location in the Windsor Park neighborhood,” Jenn said.
“I attended a webinar hosted by Mission Capital in the early days of the pandemic, where Amber Warne, the Director of Upskilling and Advancement at Workforce Solutions, spoke about Rapid Response programs for employers,” said Jenn. “I reached out after the event, and Amber and several of her colleagues were kind enough to meet with me to discuss ACR’s immediate needs.”
Most of ACR’s employees are retail clerks, an occupation with limited work-from-home options. The Board of Directors committed to paying all staff for the hours they would have worked during the closure with the organization’s emergency funds, but those funds were quickly depleted.
ACR applied for and received Layoff Aversion funding, which “allowed us to make the investments necessary to safely operate a small retail business in the time of COVID,” Jenn said. “These investments keep our staff, customers and donors safe. Reducing the risk of exposure also increases the likelihood that, once opened, the center will be able to stay open.”
With funding in hand, ACR purchased sanitization supplies and services to maintain a safe environment for staff and customers, equipment like utility carts and bay door screens for safe and contactless collection of donations, and technology to allow more staff to work remotely.
ACR also purchased equipment to expand a new online store and launch sidewalk sales. This provided safe alternate means for customers to shop while ACR prepared to reopen the center, according to Jenn.
“Workforce Solutions Capital Area has been an amazing partner during this chapter. All Workforce Solutions staff – and Amber Warne, in particular – were deeply supportive in helping ACR to plan our re-opening needs and use the Layoff Aversion funds wisely and responsively to the ever-changing COVID environment,” Jenn said.
“Austin-area businesses and non-profits are lucky to have such a great local partner in Workforce Solutions Capital Area,” she added.
ACR reopened the interior of the center on August 20—after being closed for five months, their doors were open again.
“The Layoff Aversion funding allowed ACR to orchestrate a staged re-opening of our center that was both responsive to the needs of our staff and our customers and reflective of the developing risks posed by COVID-19 in Central Texas,” Jenn said.
“The funding allowed us to quickly pivot to alternate ways for our community to shop with us while the center was closed, such as sidewalks sales, personal shopping and our new online store,” said Jenn. “These new funding streams both offered much needed revenue and allowed us to get creative materials back into the community at a time when they were needed most.”
ACR is open four days a week and at significantly lower capacity, but sales are rebounding. Earlier in October, ACR celebrated the fifth anniversary of opening of Austin’s first and only creative reuse center.
ACR is also celebrating their growing workforce: “We hired our 19th staff member the week of October 19, up from 14 when we applied for the Layoff Aversion Program in May,” Jenn said.
With center sales as ACR’s primary source of income, reopening the center and generating revenue was the only path toward long-term viability of the organization. The Layoff Aversion funding allowed ACR to make the investments necessary to safely operate a small business in the time of COVID.
Without those investments, it would have been very difficult for us to reopen the center. We certainly would not have been able to hire new staff and would most likely have needed to reduce hours for existing staff or face layoffs,” Jenn said.
“ACR would like to extend our deepest thanks to everyone at Workforce Solutions Capital Area. This funding was instrumental in allowing us to keep our entire staff working during the five months that our center was closed to the public,” Jenn said. “We look forward to continuing to work with your team on upskilling, professional development, staff recruitment and more!”
Workforce Solutions Capital Area can assist Central Texas employers impacted by COVID-19
If you are a business or CBO facing a layoff or closure, we can offer outplacement assistance, layoff aversion strategies, and potential financial assistance at no cost.
Visit our website to learn about resources to assist you in responding to economic changes related to concerns about COVID-19.