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- The COVID-19 crisis has reminded many people of the benefits and joys of what some call “homesteading” activities
- Entrepreneurs in these types of businesses that have long held loyal, niche markets are now opening up to a surge of mainstream consumers.
- Business Insider compiled this list of the 13 most interesting throwback industries that are trending during the pandemic.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, people are revisiting old pastimes, some out of necessity, others in pursuit of comfort and release during crisis.
This has exposed some eclectic entrepreneurs to a brand new customer base, accelerating sales and boosting traffic online, on-foot, and on-wheel.
Businesses that have long held loyal, niche markets are now opening up to a surge of mainstream consumers.
If successful, they also end up with something useful, like vegetables for a salad or a scarf to warm their necks — equal parts meditative and rewarding.
Business Insider compiled a few of the most interesting throwback industries that have been trending during the pandemic based on our reporting, as well as data and media reports from the past few months.
One common thread we found is that businesses within these industries would not be considered “essential” by local governments. That meant business owners had to find creative ways to pivot online, meet customer demand, and deliver their products and services safely.
Continue reading to see our picks for 13 industries making a comeback during the pandemic.
Many Hollywood productions halted during the pandemic, movie theaters are reopening with limited capacity, and Broadway will not reopen for the rest of 2020, so the theaters of our summers may be outside.
Drive-in movie theaters are seeing a business boom after 60 years of steady decline, WGBH reported. While there are far fewer drive-in theaters across the US than during their heydays of the 1950s, pop-up locations like Rooftop Cinema in Houston, Texas, are selling out.
Family Drive-in Theater in Stephens City, Virginia told CNBC in May that nearly 5,000 people came to the drive-in after state lockdowns lifted. Theater owners are ensuring cars are socially distanced, implementing stringent cleanings, and some are turning to online-only ticket orders and food trucks for concessions.
A drive-in theater could even come to Yankee Stadium this summer. Marco Shalma, founder of The Bronx Night Market food festival and owner of MASC Hospitality Group, plans to bring movie screens and food to a parking lot outside the baseball stadium for a festival called Uptown Drive-In Experience.
Before puzzles experienced their mainstream comeback during COVID19 — making it onto the social media feeds of actor Hugh Jackman and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres — they were a common pastime for retirees and collectors with a fanatic following.
Stores devoted entirely to puzzles cater to a niche consumer set, like Piece Time Puzzles in Northwood, New Hampshire, which makes custom-order puzzles for gifts.
NPR reported that one of the largest companies making jigsaw puzzles in the US saw sales surge 300% year-over-year in the second week of March.
On March 23, more Amazon shoppers searched for puzzles than they did for Clorox wipes, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Roller skating is yet another example of a trend with a long-term, die-hard following that is seeing a surge of popularity resulting from the pandemic.
New York Times culture reporter Taylor Lorenz captured the mood in a recent feature on the subject, in which she highlights several entrepreneurs who have seen their businesses take off since March.
“As soon as lockdown started, sales started going up of everything,” skater and entrepreneur Marawa Ibrahim told Lorenz. “We’re completely sold out of skates, like everyone, and clothing too.”
Also featured was former personal trainer Terrance Brown, who pivoted to launch a skate club in Santa Barbara after only turning onto the hobby just five months earlier.
There’s only so much time we can spend on our screens, and the urge to put our thoughts on paper is leading some brands like Papier to see a quadrupling of online sales in recent weeks.
“Everyone is experiencing digital fatigue—which is real—so we are turning to tangible things.” Andrea Bell, director of insights at trend forecasting company WGSN, told Town and Country magazine.
And in Illinois, one entrepreneur told the Chicago Tribune that her party supply business was facing certain failure until she had the bright idea to craft a series of post cards.
“We hit ‘best seller’ in five or six days” on Amazon, said Amanda Wittenborn, with more than 600,000 cards sold.
Her most popular line features designs for teachers to send to students during the sudden closure of classrooms, with phrases like “You’re a Llamazing student” and “‘Taco’ about an awesome student.”
A casual observer might think that board games and puzzles belong in the same category, but how wrong they would be.
“Board games are keeping us sane,” said Los Angeles entrepreneur and game designer Lars Thorn in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “It’s keeping us social and keeping us connected to family.”
The titles of Thorn’s drinking-themed creations include Brew Ha Ha, Read Between the Wines, and Whiskey Business, but the title dominating sales is inarguably the classic offering from legendary game-smith Z-Man, Pandemic.
Curtis McGill and Scott Houdashell of Hey Buddy Hey Pal Investments games company told Forbes their Amazon sales were up 4,000 percent year over year in March, and that in-store Walmart sales had doubled.
“Right now we’re on pace to sell more in one day than we’ve ever sold on Amazon,” McGill said.
Thorn suggested that social distancing measures were actually fueling sales, with people buying multiple copies of a title to play with friends and family over a video call.
Though needlepoint, knitting, and crochet have been around for centuries, they’ve more recently become popular among millennials as bloggers and influencers posted their cheeky cross-stitched sayings and movie quotes during the pandemic.
As Rosa Inocencio Smith wrote for The Atlantic, people have long used crafting to ease anxiety and gain some sense of control during a difficult and uncertain time.
During World War I, French women cross-stitched military scenes for fundraising and during World War II, America created knitting propaganda to get citizens to contribute to the war effort.
In similar fashion, sewing face masks has surged during the coronavirus pandemic.
In June, arts and crafts store chain Michael’s saw its stock increase more than 50%, according to AdWeek, and the company told The Washington Post that it’s seen viewers of Facebook Live tutorials increase by 150%.
American consumers more than doubled their flour consumption since March, an Indiana agriculture trade group told a local TV station, and for months store shelves were depleted of ordinary baker’s yeast.
Nielsen data showed that yeast sales spiked to nearly 650% over the year before — the fastest sales growth for a grocery product during the third week of March.
While experts say this was an issue more of supply chains than of supply itself, Americans are clearly interested in upping their crumb game.
Crate and Barrel CEO Neela Montgomery told Business Insider that home bread makers were flying off the shelves.
“In one week in April, we sold more bread makers than we did in the whole of 2019,” she said.
Millennials certainly didn’t come up with the idea of indoor horticulture, and the pandemic has given new life to this cyclical trend as people spend more time at home.
When Business Insider spoke with Patch Plants in April, the London-based startup said it was doing brisk business delivering custom-selected greenery and care instructions to customers under lockdown in Europe and the UK.
“We were probably doing 10 orders a day on online” at the start, said Franky Athill, head of marketing.
In the US, the National Gardening Association estimates sales in the houseplant industry doubled in the last few years, and those numbers are likely trending up as plants like the Pilea peperomioides trend on Instagram.
Arcades may seem like one of the least likely to bounce back from the pandemic, when they rely on customers to visit a physical location to play Pac-Man and pinball. But arcade owners found a way to deliver the gaming fun to customers’ homes while they were in quarantine.
Leonard’s Lowry Parcade in Tampa, Florida, Small Change Arcade in San Francisco, and Underground Retrocade in Chicago are just a few of the businesses that rented out their vintage arcade games at weekly or monthly rates to local customers.
The owner of Underground Retrocade told the Chicago Tribune that he’d received tens of thousands of views on a Facebook post to market the service and had rentals pouring in through May.
The industry has seen heavy decline in recent years, as online and at-home video gaming dominate the market.
A study by White Hutchinson group found that from 2000 to 2018, average household spending on digital entertainment increased by 68% while spending on out-of-home entertainment declined by 2%.
But some say nostalgia could be the key to reviving the industry. Peter Gustafson, executive vice president of the American Amusement Machine Association told the Las Vegas Review Journal that as younger generations become “tired of stuff,” they will find value in the personal interaction of arcade games.
In May, The New York Times reported a major surge in bicycle sales, a result of people’s increased interest in exercise and fear of traveling on public transportation. Local bike shops across the country were selling out before they could restock.
Trek, one of the largest bicycle producers in the US, saw sales skyrocket during the pandemic. Eric, Bjorling, the company’s director of brand marketing, said the cycling industry had been moving along steadily for several years, with incremental plateaus and gains.
Then the first week of April, Trek saw record traffic on its website during what Bjorling called likely “the biggest boom the cycling industry has ever experienced.”
The company surveyed 1,004 Americans and found that 85% perceive cycling as a safer mode of transportation while social distancing, compared to public transit. Sixty-three percent of the respondents felt riding their bikes helped relieve stress during the pandemic.
And the industry shows signs of keeping pace — half of Americans plan to continue riding their bicycles after the pandemic, according to the Trek survey. This bodes well in conjunction with road closure programs that have opened more space for pedestrians and cyclists in cities like New York and Seattle.
“They’re actually recognizing that they do have hundreds of thousands of people who need more space,” Bjorling said. “If [Americans] have a safe place to ride, they will ride their bikes.”
To cope with the heat of the summer, people have long turned to public pools, natural springs, and other bastions of heat-rebuffing bodies of water.
This year, though, COVID-19 and its attendant social-distancing guidelines have prevented people from returning to their favorite piscine haunts. So, with the mercury rising, floatie enthusiasts across the country have had to get creative.
Enter: inflatable pools.
The throwback swimming rigs are perfectly suited to accomodate recreation in the time of the coronavirus.
They allow their occupants the relaxing cool of a pool without sharing germs or getting within six feet of each other. They also fit easily into a backyard or small plot of land, meaning they offer a way to “get out of the house” without entering the bacteria-laden world at large.
“To work all day and just get out of the stale air conditioning and into this nice body of water with my little cocktail and just sit there for 45 minutes and relax,” Heather Hart, 43, of Minneapolis, told The Washington Post. “It was lovely. Totally worth $124.”
While video games have long been popular, usage surged during the pandemic, according to Axios. Gaming can be both a solo hobby and a chance to compete with friends while maintaining social distance.
There’s been a 46% increase in the number of people who say they’re playing video games more due to the pandemic in the US since late March, according to Nielsen Video Game Tracking.
The number of Americans who play video games jumped by 32 million between 2018 and 2020, according to market research firm NPD Group’s 2020 Gamer Segmentation Report. NPD Group gaming analyst Mat Piscatella told Axios he’s seeing “an acceleration of pre-existing trends.”
What’s more, gaming companies Nintendo and Electronic Arts have reported record profits and beat analyst estimates for earnings, according to Axios. Epic Games, the maker of the wildly popular game Fortnite, announced on Aug. 6 that raised $1.78 billion at a post-money valuation of $17.3 billion.
When the coronavirus first struck the US, surf schools and surf shops experienced an immediate existential threat: any activity that relied on shared equipment or group collaboration had to stop immediately.
The industry quickly adapted. At Surf Happens, a Santa Barbara surf school owned by Chris and Jenny Keet, the owners initially adjusted by creating tutorial videos and teaching socially distant lessons.
When California entered Phase 3, though, and the state’s beaches reopened, the Keets tweaked their surf programs to comply with the rules while also taking advantage of the natural distancing involved in the sport.
The Keets decreased the size of their surf camps, implemented strict surfboard and wetsuit sanitation guidelines, and created games that allow for social distancing and mask-wearing, according to The Washington Post.
Unlike team sports, surfing is a distanced endeavor. Once surfers find their way out into the ocean, social distancing and contamination are no worry.
As surfers like the Keets and others have discovered, with a few tweaks to the on-land protocol, the sport is an almost perfect pasttime for the coronavirus summer.