Q&A: Ayla’s Originals boutique co-owner talks pandemic pivots, future plans

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Photo courtesy of Joe Pizzo

Ayla’s Originals, 1511 Sherman Ave. The boutique, which sells jewelry and beads, has had to adjust its services this past year due to the pandemic.

Laya Neelakandan, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Ayla’s Originals is a bead and jewelry boutique which offers a variety of crystals, beads, glass and other arts and crafts items. Located at 1511 Sherman Ave., the shop also repairs broken jewelry, provides private lessons and hosts jewelry-making parties. The Daily sat down with Joe Pizzo, co-owner of Ayla’s Originals, to talk about how COVID-19 has affected the shop and what the path forward looks like. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: A year into the pandemic, how has the boutique adjusted?

Pizzo: Because of the safety protocol, there are less hours and less days that we’re open, and that has been a major blow. Also, the fact that a lot of our employees were older meant that they could not or would not be able to come back to work, so those two things alone severely affected how we could do business. One of the things that we’re doing since the pandemic is selling through Facebook Live — that’s really one of the things that kept us going. What we do is we sell one item, like gemstones or silver beads, and we put it on a Facebook Live. That process has really helped us. We’ve been able to sell thousands of things.

The Daily: How has the Evanston community come together to support local businesses during COVID-19?

Pizzo: There is a group called Support Evanston Shops, Salons & Studios, which has driven a lot of business toward us. Downtown Evanston has also helped our store quite a bit. Through Facebook, there’s also a group of bead store owners, and that’s been helpful for suggestions for what to do in certain situations. 

The Daily: What’s usually popular at Ayla’s Originals, and how has customer interest changed since the start of the pandemic?

Pizzo: Gemstones seem to be a very popular thing for us. Pearls are also a speciality of Ayla’s Originals. We also do jewelry repair. That’s been another area that’s growing for us and helping us. One area we’ve lost in revenue is we’re no longer teaching or having classes or parties for social distancing reasons. We offered teaching over Zoom, but nobody took us up on it. 

The Daily: What are your future plans for the boutique as restrictions begin to lift?

Pizzo: We’re working on creating an e-commerce site. That’s the biggest one. Another thing that we’re doing on Facebook — and we’re going to bring it into YouTube — is “Tuesday Tips at 2,” where I show a certain procedure or make something. We will probably never go back to being open six days a week or have the kind of hours we did, and I don’t see us opening the store completely. Right now, we keep the door locked so we can manage who comes in and make sure they’re wearing their face mask. We have hand sanitizer at the door, so as soon as people come in, we ask them to take care of that. We’ve got the sneeze guards everywhere. We also have this big beautiful table in the middle of the store. Before, we were easily able to have half a dozen people join us and sit around, but we just aren’t able to do this at this time. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point where we’ll be comfortable enough to do that again.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @laya_neel

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