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"Side-gigs!" Four West Michiganders share their journey with small business during the pandemic

"You need to have confidence in yourself," said Will Carlson. "You've got to start small and start somewhere."

MICHIGAN, USA — Have you ever thought about starting a side-gig to earn some extra money or just to get your creative juices flowing?

Well, several West Michiganders have done just that during the pandemic, and they all say you can do it too.

Melanie Edwards is a full-time nurse technician for Spectrum Health. But now, she's also what's called an online "thrifter." She runs her entire business out of her apartment in Ada. It's called Mitten Must Haves

Melanie said starting this business was a way to cope with the stress of the pandemic.

"It helps me shift my mind and keep me sane," she said.

Melanie travels to estate sales and thrift stores, and collects items to put into a themed collection.

"I feel like it's giving dignity back to these pieces that were probably really well-loved," said Melanie.

She posts pictures are posted on her Instagram page, and then once a week, the sale opens for several hours.

People can buy some of the items or all of them, and then she offers delivery or pickup from her apartment.

"I really gear towards the home décor because that's kind of what my mom did to make our house a home when I was growing up," she said.

Melanie said she was nervous to get started, but had to remind herself you've got to start somewhere, and now she's well into her small business.

"Just every day, pick something new up," Melanie said, "try something new with the stuff that you get and you'll be on your way!"

Over in Grand Rapids, Amy Gascon, a comedy and business professional teamed up with her dad to make some extra cash after the pandemic hit.

"My dad handles the woodworking side of it and I handle more of the business and marketing sides of it," Gascon said.

Gascon helps run The Comedy Project in Grand Rapids, and her income there took hard hit during the pandemic. That's when she and her dad created Home Grove Studio.

"I wanted my target market to be people like me who like cheese platters and charcuterie," she said.  

Amy and her dad, Ed Kerns, make wooden earrings, bottle openers, and most popularly, wooden cheese spreaders.

Amy said her side-gig has not only brought in some extra income, but it's also brought her closer to her dad who lives in East Michigan.

"It's been fun because he's teaching me how to do the woodworking as well," she said.

Gascon's advice for others is simple. 

"Start small, use the infrastructures that are available to you because there's a lot of sellers online," she said. "And then using your friends and family to give you an idea of what you'll be selling."

Over in Ottawa County, more custom wooden creations are taking over a basement in Hudsonville.

Tyler Verkade is a systems engineer for an internet service provider. When the pandemic hit, he turned his hobby of woodworking into a business.

"When you're in a virtual world typing all the time its kind of hard to have tangible, quantifiable progress," he said. "It gave me something to do that wasn't just sitting in front of the tv or in front of screens."

Black Stone Wood Dynamics specializes in custom wooden cutting boards and coasters.

Verkade uses dyes and different types of wood from all over the world to mix colors and textures.

He also has some advice for anyone who is thinking about starting a small business. 

"It's hard to start," he said. "I mean anybody starting a business will tell you that. But if you love it just do it, don't worry about sales right away because it takes a while."

And that's something 18-year-old Will Carlson in Rockford felt too.

"You've just got to start small and have the self-confidence to keep going," Carlson said.

With that confidence, this recent high school grad has sold to hundreds of people across the world.

Will started Carlson Creations with his 3D printer, designing and making universal "mask holders."

The magnetic holders can be put on all kinds of hats and headbands, and Will said he thought of the idea after seeing so many people struggle with the uncomfortable masks.

"I thought it would be really good for people who have to wear masks for long periods of time," Carlson said. "And it's helpful for people with hearing aids especially, because they can get tangled up."

"If you see a need, design something, create something," he added.

So whether its online thrifting, woodworking, or even 3D printing, these West Michiganders are proving that side gigs are possible, and possible for everyone.

"It's tough you have to stick with it," said Tyler Verkade. "You have to persevere and yeah just do it because you want to and it makes it a lot easier."

"You need to have confidence in yourself," said Will Carlson. "You've got to start small and start somewhere."

To learn more about Melanie Edwards and her online thrifting, click here.

To learn more about Amy Gascon and her wooden creations, click here

To learn more about Tyler Verkade and his custom cutting boards, click here

To learn more about Will Carlson's magnetic mask holders, click here.

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