When the New Jersey shutdown was announced last March, Jack Morrison, the president of the Princeton Merchants Association, wondered how this could happen?

“I don’t think any of us saw the tidal wave, the tsunami that was approaching,” he said.

With almost every store in downtown Princeton closed, Morrison said weekly Zoom meetings began to keep store owners up to date on vital information about social distancing, masking and new regulations.

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After the state began to allow stores to reopen with limited capacity in late spring, Morrison said the Merchants Association provided information and coaching on social media.

He said businesses that had not already created a website quickly understood they needed to get online immediately, and the Merchants Association was able to help them move forward.

“Instagram and TicTok and Twitter and all those different things really became very important because it was another means of getting word out to people," he said.

The COVID pandemic has put a great strain on all New Jersey businesses but it’s been especially tough for smaller shops and companies.

Frenchtown resident Sandy Dillon opened her business alone, without the help of a downtown association or local Chamber, and she did it in the middle of the pandemic.

Dillon, who is an artist, a photographer and a film editor, always had a dream of opening an art gallery.

Her dream began to take shape 12 months ago but not in the way she could have possibly imagined.

In February 2020, an unusual space became available for rent in Frenchtown, where she lives.

“I had the a-ha! moment," she said. "I always wanted to open an art gallery.”

The next day she signed a lease, shortly thereafter she resigned her film editing job, and a few weeks later the COVID-19 pandemic began and the entire state was locked down.

She said part of her was terrified but every fiber of her being knew she should be opening this art gallery.

“I wanted to fill the niche of being more alternative art and more risky and then more art for artists,” she said.

Dillon began to do renovation work on the space. She contacted artist friends about showing their work. The state partially reopened in early summer and The Art Parlour had its official opening in August .

Dillon said her building works great for the social distancing requirements of a pandemic because “the space is small but it’s very long and it has really high ceilings.”

She said creating The Art Parlour during this most unusual time has been scary, a lot of hard work and extremely gratifying.

“As time goes on, I regret more things that I haven’t done than things that I’ve done," she said.

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