The pandemic brought two Longmont entrepreneurs to a crossroads, forcing them to take a hard look at their passions and go after what speaks to their souls.
Chad Weber has been living in Longmont for close to two years. Most of his work as a freelance filmmaker has relied on shooting and editing professional video for corporate and business clients.
When the pandemic hit, the volume of projects began to decrease, taking a toll on his bottom line.
“I really wanted to stay positive and busy so I launched the platform, Free Range FIlms, myself to create this type of work,” he said “If the opportunity doesn't present itself then create the opportunity, that’s what being an entrepreneur is.”
Free Range Films is a platform housing mini-documentaries focused on human-driven stories, according to Weber.
“Part of the naming it this way was because I didn't want it to be too specific, for it to be super organic, be whatever it could be,” he said. “I like to focus on relatable things like local farms or small businesses that others can relate to, like adversity and struggle and hope.”
After leaving a full-time job at an agency in Peoria, Illinois, Weber worked as a freelancer on projects across the country and internationally in places like Germany and Ecuador, he said, adding as time stood still with the pandemic, he has branched out into more local and community work.
“It’s hard to know what the (freelance) business is or will be anymore, it doesn't look like it used to,” he said, adding he cannot just stop being a filmmaker.
“The business is not just a job for me, it's a kind of my life, a bigger passion. I want to always be growing and if I’m not growing it makes me unhappy because it's such a big part of my life.”
Over the past year, Weber partnered with Brian Bishop of Real Original and Tom Ludlow of Tend Studio to do projects for local businesses such as Dryland Distillers, Lefthand Brewery, Diabase Engineering and local groups like non-professional distance runners in Boulder.
Like him, the subject of one of his documentary films, Rachel Hunter, has pivoted her business to seize the opportunities the pandemic has delivered.
“Because you learn so much about yourself when you are knocked down,” this is how Hunter begins describing her story in the six-minute documentary.
For 11 years, Hunter has owned and operated A Florae, a Longmont-based boutique flower shop specializing in weddings and locally grown retail flowers, according to the website.
When the pandemic hit, the shrinking wedding and event market impacted the business’ ability to remain profitable, forcing her to shift the focus and breadth of the business, she said.
“We had a retail shop that was a very small portion of the business. Once we knew that weddings and events were not going to happen, I had to shift and rely on retail and put all my time and energy on retail, which is what I had always wanted.” she said. “Sometimes that's what you have to do, it’s the choice you'll (make) no matter what.”
In Feb. 2021, against all odds, Hunter moved to a new location, 464 Main Street, doubling the size of the space for A Florae.
“People will tell you to be scared and that you should be scared, but in all honesty, I wasn't. That doesn't mean it was all full of wanderlust. I did all the steps to financially see if it would work or not,” she said. “But I had a strong enough clarity about my decision and that grounded me when that would have made someone else be fearful. It really felt this was exactly the move for my business.”
What was once a business largely dedicated to catering in-person events, has become a retail shop offering an array of flowers, clothes and other products. Soon Hunter plans to add antiques and drift items to her shop, she said.
“There is a cap on growth for what we could have done in the old space, we were already bursting at the seams,” she said.
Next steps for A Florae include a heavier presence online as well as grabbing the attention of higher budget weddings across the state, she said. “I am hoping the beauty and look of the (new) store helps grow that.”
Weber hopes that the community can feel some pride in Hunter’s story along with other stories told through his medium, he said, adding these are opportunities for people to see the humanity in others even in times of adversity.
“The idea of the overall project is to share empathy and the more understanding we have of other people the more empathy we can gain and the least tempted we are to categorize, generalize and make assumptions,” he said. “Filmmaking for me is about a curiosity to understand what are the influences and forces that shape individuals and help shape their perspectives … the more empathy and understanding, the more we come at it differently when we disagree.”