When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the city, Larissa Callahan had to completely reimagine her business.

“It’s been a lot of just being creative really quickly, because I didn't know how to run a business during a pandemic," Callahan said. "Like nobody knew what to do. So this has been quite the whirlwind of a year.”

Callahan estimates that the year of closures cost her around 70% of the revenue her shop, Bead + Fiber, would make in a normal year. The small store, located in the SoWa Market space in the South End, offers craft materials, jewelry, yarn, thread and classes that would bring in customers throughout the year. But with everyone stuck at home and SoWa shut down for the year, the 30-year-old Chelsea-based artist said she struggled to make ends meet.

“I hope that people really understand what us little guys go through,” Callahan said. “We're not a corporate company. We don't have a lot of assistance that some of these bigger places do.”

Callahan applied for grants and loans — some she got, others she didn’t, “which was kind of frustrating,” she said. “But, you know, we're still looking for grants and trying to get some funding, and hopefully now with the weather's getting nicer, we'll have more business from that.”

Larissa Callahan, 30, and her business partner Sara Ingle, 30, at their shop, Bead+Fiber in the SoWa marketplace in the South End, May 2, 2021
Tori Bedford GBH News

On Sunday, SoWa finally reopened — with reduced capacity — and artists, farmers and vendors were able to return to the space that has served as a boon for local businesses since it began in 2003.

“It’s like Christmas day. Everything can come out of hibernation,” said Melissa Thyden, a Worcester-based seamstress and fashion designer and one of 25 vendors that set up shop in SoWa’s outdoor space off Harrison Ave.

“The last year was really hard because I had so much inventory just building up in my house and I just kept making more of it,” she said. “And because I spent an entire year at home sewing, I have more product than I've ever had in my life right now. And it's insane.”

Since 2015, Thyden, 33, and her business partner Brittany Monty, 30, made between $500 and $1,000 a day at SoWa through their shops Cosmic Unicornz and Mall Goth Trash, boutiques that sell handmade, upcycled and vintage clothes, accessories and jewelry. When SoWa shut down, Thyden said her primary source of income dried up.

“It was like a whole paycheck missing every week," she said. "It was a shock to not have that. And then everyone was just buying masks for an entire year. So [Monty and I] kind of put everything on hiatus for a few months, and I think between the two of us, we made, sold and distributed over 5,000 masks.”

Brittany Monty, 30, left, and Marissa Thyden, 33, outside their shared boutique at SoWa market in the South End, May 2, 2021.
Tori Bedford GBH News

With reduced capacity limits, roughly one fourth of the normal amount of vendors are selling in the outdoor space now, SoWa Market Manager Ali Horeanopoulos said. But more may be able to sign up as the summer progresses, according to Horeanopoulos.

“We're hoping that will start to grow soon,” she said. “I think people wanted to give themselves a little bit of a buffer, so a lot of our regulars are coming back in June. I think May was a little early for some folks.”

"It was like a whole paycheck missing every week. It was a shock to not have that."

A lot of artists had to turn to an online revenue model during the pandemic, Horeanopoulos said. That meant some of them didn’t return to SoWa, at least not immediately. But Horeanopoulos said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“In some cases that’s because folks spent the entire year focusing on their online shops, and some have found that to be really successful,” she said. “So they're wondering if that's a better way forward for them, and that’s great for them. But a good number of our regular vendors have come back.”

Ramsey Noel, 34, started her “pandemic baby” beauty and skincare business, Black Label Fine Goods, out of her home in Roxbury this year, selling online and at whatever outdoor marketplaces she could find. Sunday was Noel’s first time setting up shop at SoWa, with a plan to return once a month and pick up additional dates throughout the summer.

Ramsey Noel at the tent for her business, Black Label Fine Goods, at SoWa market in the South End, May 2, 2021
Tori Bedford GBH News

“It's so cool,” Noel said. “People are getting vaccinated, the market is still at partial capacity. But It's weird — it’s like we’re back.”

Inside the building at 450 Harrison Ave., photographer, painter and jewelry maker Debby Krim, 63, sat at her desk, the door of her studio swung wide open as people meandered through the building’s studios, finally open to the public.

“I've been here for so many years, and I've developed an incredible audience," Krim said. "And obviously when the pandemic hit, it pulled that rug out from under me and for a lot of us here. It certainly changed the volume of people that were coming in the building to see our work.”

As a founding member, Krim has run her studio since the origins of SoWa. She also runs the SoWa Artists Guild, a nonprofit association representing around 100 professional studio artists.

“We didn't lose a lot of people in the building,” Krim said. “We didn't have an enormous turnover. Maybe about a handful of people left, but they might have left anyway.”

It’s difficult to gauge whether the turnover was coronavirus related, Krim said, due to the fluid nature of the space.

Debby Krim, who runs the SoWa Artists Guild, at her studio on Harrison Ave., May 2, 2021
Tori Bedford GBH News

“I'm always looking on the bright side, and the bright side of that is that we have this fresh, new blood in here that's invigorating,” Krim said. “It draws in a different crowd, which is great for us. So it's all kind of this natural cycle of life. It's really ultimately positive — even though you have to suffer, you know, to get through that.”

Just outside, a line formed around the block, with customers moving in and out of the space to meet the 180-person capacity limit at the outdoor market. Wearing a sparkling cowboy hat and a hand-sewn pink mask, Thyden joyfully greeted each person who approached her multicolored tent.

“Everything was in the garage for all of last year, and it just feels really good to set it up again. I just feel so relieved,” Thyden said. “It’s like a burden is starting to be lifted. All of our pieces that were just collecting dust, now people are buying them. People are excited. They want to buy things that will make them happy. They're looking for sparkle. They're looking for bright colors. People are starting to, you know, see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

This story has been updated to clarify how much Melissa Thyden and Brittany Monty previously made per day at their shops in SoWa, and to correct the spelling of Ramsey Noel's last name.