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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 26, 2020 2 days ago

Businesses get creative in response to coronavirus challenges

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From virtual piano lessons to prepackaged pizza quarantine kits, Sarasota business owners are trying to stay afloat and keep the community engaged.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Even after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the closure of dine-in eating at restaurants throughout the state to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, things haven’t slowed down at Solorzano Bros. pizzeria on Webber Street.

Although no customers go in or out of the restaurant, visitors can now walk up to a to-go window on the north side of the building to grab their pizza. Solorzano Bros. still does plenty of delivery business too, with customers offering generous tips and leaving encouraging messages via an online ordering system.

A new product has drawn attention on social media and inspired at least one bulk order: a “quarantizza” kit, which includes a package of dough, sauce, cheese and customizable toppings for people to make their own pizzas at home.

Owner Carlos Solorzano Jr. said he wanted to find an opportunity to get creative in the face of a crisis. One way that manifested itself: the quarantizza kit. Courtesy photo.

The spread of COVID-19 and state regulations designed to curb the effects of the coronavirus have presented serious challenges for many Sarasota businesses and workers, already leading to closures and layoffs. But in addition to taking steps to address health concerns, businesses that remain in operation are exploring creative opportunities to keep attracting customers.

Solorzano Bros. Owner Carlos Solorzano Jr. said he sees moments of crisis as an opportunity to do something resourceful. He said the public has responded positively.

“I’m very pleased to see the reaction from customers, whether new or old,” Solorzano said. “They’ve been calling us and commenting and leaving notes in the online orders — thank you guys, we love you so much, thank you for being open.”

Like Solorzano, restaurant operators throughout the region have attempted to remind the public they remain open even while their dining rooms are mandated to close. Sarasota Manatee Originals, a group of more than 60 independently owned restaurants, encouraged residents to support community businesses by participating in “The Great American Takeout” on Tuesday. A list of restaurants offering carryout and delivery service is available at EatLikeALocal.com.

The city of Sarasota is working to accommodate the shifting restaurant business model. On Monday, staff began installing signs at downtown parking spots to provide spaces for delivery drivers or people who ordered takeout.

The city installed signs for designated pickup parking spots near downtown restaurants this week.

The changes go beyond the restaurant industry. Music Compound, a music school with locations on Cattlemen Road and Apricot Avenue, has launched online lessons in response to coronavirus-related concerns. Although the change was inspired by difficult circumstances and came about in just a day, Music Compound Owner Jenny Townsend described the online programming as an opening for the school to broaden its reach.

“I am very excited to create a new business model overnight and enhance our services,” she said in the release.

The Bazaar at Apricot and Lime, a market featuring more than 30 independent vendors selling a variety of artwork clothes, services as more, has closed to the public — but that doesn’t mean business has stopped. Kim Livengood, daughter of Bazaar Owner Judy Alexander, launched a daily online broadcast March 18 that highlights products from vendors in the building. Depending on the products, vendors are able to deliver or ship items.

Kim Livengood hosts daily broadcasts featuring goods from vendors at The Bazaar on Apricot and Lime.

The Bazaar Shopping Network, a take on HSN, airs live on the Bazaar’s Facebook page at 2 p.m. every day, and a recording gets posted to the business’s YouTube account. Although Livengood has a marketing background and some on-screen experience, she said the broadcasts are a new experience for her. She’s learning as she goes — the image on the first video is accidentally mirrored, an issue that got fixed.

“It’s forcing us to really think outside the box on how to sustain ourselves,” Livengood said.

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