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Employed is a weekly reporting series focused on the new Northwoods.The landscape of living, playing, and working in the Northwoods is changing. Where we work, where we shop, where we reside, and how we support our families looks different than it did even a decade ago. It continues to shift as industry, tourism, retail, services, and natural resources shift.Entrepreneurship, broadband, work-from-home, and COVID-19 are all part of that mix. What makes you wonder, or what story ideas do you have for Employed? Submit them below.

Two-in-One: How Park Falls Small Businesses Succeed Through Creativity

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For many small businesses in the Northwoods, offering one product or service just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Especially during a global pandemic, doing two things at once is often a necessity for survival.

That’s on display in Park Falls, where last Wednesday, Linda Bukachek filled a pitcher with heated wax in a back room at Patchouli Garden.

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Candle molds being filled at Patchouli Garden in Park Falls.

It’s the first step in a candle-making process she’s repeated over and over. Bukachek next adds ingredients, color, and fragrances to the wax. Then, she carefully pours it into a dozen candle molds.

Bukachek said she loves her job at Patchouli Garden, which makes candles, incense, and bath and body products by hand.

“It’s the creativity. It’s satisfying. It’s so satisfying to see your final product, your end product,” she said.

Most of the products at the store contain its namesake fragrance, patchouli. Patchouli is a plant oil which reached a peak of popularity in the 1970s, but is making a strong comeback with a loyal following of users.

“It’s a very earthy tone, grassy, dirty, kind of scent,” said Patchouli Garden owner Tara Tervort.

A small sign marks Tervort’s storefront in downtown Park Falls, where customers visit for the lotions, soaps, candles, and free smells.

“The hippie theme, we’re kind of just going with it,” she said. “We love it. It’s something different. No one else has it up here.”

Tervort said the store has had a hippie vibe since opening 20 years ago. She bought the store from its longtime owner last year and moved it into the new downtown location this spring.

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Patchouli Garden owner Tara Tervort.

However, the bulk of the sales leave Patchouli Garden not through the front door but through the mail.

At least 80 percent of the store’s business comes from online orders, shipped from Park Falls to the world.

“It’s about 30 to almost 40 orders a day we put out,” Tervort said.

“We have people specifically looking for patchouli, and they find it [with us], and we hear that all the time. ‘Oh, I was looking for patchouli. I’m so grateful I found you guys. This is the stuff. We remember it. This is exactly what we were looking for.’”

To reach customers and make a profit, Tervort has to do two things: offer them a storefront and have a strong web presence.

Without online sales, she says, she wouldn’t have a business.

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Kayla Myers, owner of Kayla's Kitchen and Closet in Park Falls, prepares a customer's lunch.

A block away, Kayla Myers was making a customer’s lunch at Kayla’s Kitchen and Closet.

“The most popular is probably the chicken salad sandwich,” Myers said of her menu.

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Kayla's Kitchen and Closet in Park Falls.

Myers serves sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, and hot and cold drinks. She’s been running the place since six years ago, when she became one of the youngest business owners in town.

“I was 21 at the time. Pretty much just out of college. I was living with my mom, and I was like, ‘Hey, I think I should do this,’” Myers said.

Myers bought what was then the Apple Basket and changed the name to her own.

Then, a year later, the owners of the adjacent clothing store were ready to retire. Myers bought that, too, and the café now flows freely into a stylish clothing boutique.

“We have a lot of stuff that can be worn with jeans or with dress pants,” she said. “It’s a lot of stuff that can be worn when you’re going to the grocery store or if you’re going to a dinner meeting or something.”

Business was steady, but the COVID-19 pandemic caught Myers off-guard this spring.

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Kayla Myers in the clothing portion of her store.

“COVID was really hard. I only sat in the corner and cried for about a day before I made a plan and figured out what we were going to do,” she said.

In her café, she would offer carryout orders from the kitchen. In the clothing store, she tried live Facebook sales. They worked.

“Most of the time, we’d have 30 or 40 people watching us for our sales, and people from all over,” Myers said.

After making it through the worst of the COVID-19 shutdowns, she now has her eyes on even more expansion.

Myers is anticipating the buildings next door will be torn down soon.

“I would really love to have an outdoor seating patio area here, and put an ordering window in this wall,” she said, motioning toward potential changes.

But, like for so many other small businesses in the Northwoods, getting by for Myers necessitates offering two things in one.

Without it being Kayla’s Kitchen and Closet, it might be tough.

“I think we could make it, but I’d do other things if I just had the restaurant,” she said.

Myers would have to pick up gigs on the side to make ends meet, she said.

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Patchouli Garden has a small storefront in Park Falls which draws customers, but more than 80 percent of its income is made online.

Back at Patchouli Garden, Tara Tervort writes a handwritten “thank you” inside each online order box that goes out.

Customers like that, she says. Tervort needs the online orders, because for many small businesses, doing one thing well just isn’t enough.

“As a small business,” she said, “unless you offer different things, if we were to offer just a storefront, there’s no way we could keep up.”

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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