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MN photographer shines light on small businesses during COVID-19

A Minneapolis photographer is out of work because of COVID-19. She's using this time to spotlight other small businesses and how the public can support them.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — Karly Johnson is capturing a moment in history through the eyes of small business owners. 

Johnson is the owner of Karly Kreative—a Minneapolis creative agency that specializes in social media management and photography. She's been out of work for about a month and a half because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But Johnson still wanted to find a way to help support other small businesses in the Twin Cities area. She was inspired by The Front Steps Project that started in Massachusetts by photographers Cara Soulia and Kristen Collins. The project started as a way to photograph families in front of their homes and raise money for charity. It then inspired other photographers to start their own. The project has been on pause since the end of March. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Karly Johnson of Karly Kreative

Johnson decided to start her own Front Steps Project but focus exclusively on small business owners. 

"Everybody's kind of said the same thing... that we're all in it together," Johnson said. 

Johnson stays at a distance while photographing owners in front of their businesses. Then she posts them to her Instagram page, @KarlyKreative, with information on the business and ways people can still support them. 

Friday afternoon, Johnson featured Flex Appeal in St. Paul. 

Clients can no longer show up in person to the one-on-one and small group personal training studio. Instead, they're doing virtual training during Minnesota's stay-at-home order. 

"This is an amazing opportunity. I've been working at Flex Appeal for a long time and this was pretty abrupt to suddenly not be able to run," said Mary Whittenhall, a personal trainer. 

Credit: Karly Kreative
Mary Whittenhall, a personal trainer with Flex Appeal in St. Paul.

Owner Lisa Hane said about a third of her clients participate in the virtual training but that it's definitely slow. 

"I think it's a great opportunity to get the name out there of our business and several other small businesses that people might not know about and what we can continue to offer," Hane said. 

Johnson made her first Front Steps Project post on April 7. Since then, she's captured 15 small businesses in the Twin Cities area. Johnson does not charge businesses that are featured. 

"They'll [big chains] most likely be there when you get back but small businesses really may not be there. So support right now in any way that that may look like is the biggest thing you can do for them," Johnson said. 

Johnson said that could be as small as liking and following small businesses' social media pages. 

You can follow along on Johnson's Instagram page: @KarlyKreative. 

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KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what companies in Minnesota are hiring. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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