How 'Imagine That' was reimagined

BEN JOE / STAFFJessica Malloy stands in her shop, Imagine That, before hosting "paint night" for interested artists in the Olcott art-supply store. Malloy said she had to be creative to survive the COVID-19 epidemic and did so by offering no-contact supply services and posting Facebook videos to the delight of her followers.

OLCOTT — Jessica Malloy knows something about creativity. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage in many parts of the country, business owners could learn a lot from this pink-mohawked artist-entrepreneur.

From the days of being an intermediate student, home from school because she was sick, Malloy began a lifetime journey in art when she started copying pictures in her Lion King coloring book. Fast forward, she got a master's degree in art education and moved to North Carolina to teach. Fast forward some more and she’s married with two children, back in Western New York and operating her own art supply brick-and-mortar space named “Imagine That.”

Then COVID-19 hit Niagara County.

“I feel like the businesses that are surviving this had to be super creative,” Malloy said. “They couldn’t just go, ‘Oh, I’ll wait it out.’ If you wanted to stay in people’s brains as in, ‘Oh, hey, I want to support that business,’ you had to figure out a way to make it work. And that’s hard for some people.”

Malloy didn’t hesitate when the shutdown began. She went to her store and started working.

“I did a video that day, and said, ‘Hey, I got to-go kits, like we always have,’" Malloy said. “ ‘If you need something to do at home, (I’ll) package up your paints, package up your ceramics, canvases, what-have-you, and get that ready for you, pick it up, no contact pick-up or delivery or shipping,’"

By the end of the night, she had 40 orders.

For the next couple months of the shutdown, Malloy said, that was working. Customers were calling for pick-up art supply orders and Malloy was home-schooling her kids in the store. Then, around mid-May, there was a lull.

“That was when I started doing more of my Facebook Lives and that was the main way I was letting people see the insane amount of ceramics I have available,” Malloy said. 

Malloy began by placing her artists’ work — the crafts of individuals who rent space from her — online at her Square site, but it was her videos that were drawing hundreds of views, reactions and comments on Facebook. People couldn’t get enough of Malloy’s talkative personality and made comments like, “This is the most fun two hours ever!”

“I’m mildly un-shy,” Malloy said, laughing.

Now the Imagine That retail space has been reorganized to allow more space between tables and all the art is spread the four walls, many dedicated to ceramics.

Malloy started out 5-1/2 years ago offering “Paint with Personality,” step-by-step lessons for groups to paint Malloy’s original designs. She opened her store in June 2018, then moved next door in January 2019.

“I’m excited now. The to-go orders, even since I opened in July for weekends, until last weekend, to-go was still the most popular,” Malloy said.

Malloy is also using her teaching degree from Buffalo State College to teach homeschooled children about art, including many whose parents have opted out of sending them to school for the first time during this unprecedented year.

“I’m excited to actually use my degree that I’m paying all this money for,” Malloy said. “I don’t plan to actually go back to a school district and teach, but if I can do it through here and be my own boss, it’s just a win-win situation.”

More information can be found on Malloy’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/imaginethatolcott.

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