Side hustles become essential as jobs disappear during the pandemic

Whether they lost their jobs or the nature of their work changed, these Seattleites are finding creative ways to supplement their income.

Elias Savage, owner of Twilight Rainier in Seattle's Hillman City neighborhood, has relied on his carpentry expertise to pick up side jobs during the pandemic to help stay afloat financially. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Bar owner to carpenter 

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Washington state, Elias Savage found himself in a tough spot. He was still working full time at Twilight Rainier, the bar he owns in Seattle’s Hillman City neighborhood. He was keeping his business alive and his employees paid, but he couldn’t pay himself. 

Savage did this for a couple months, with the goal of keeping as many employees on the payroll as he could. Then he started getting calls from clients from a prior line of work, asking if he was interested in returning to carpentry.

“They sort of assumed since the restaurants and bars in Washington shut down that I might be looking for something,” he said. “And not wanting to say no to any [jobs] under the current circumstances, I made time to kind of jump back into a few side hustles.”

He started doing maintenance work on rental properties, painting and building fences. It was familiar work, as he grew up remodeling houses with his family and often did his own repairs on his bar. 

Now, Savage says it can be hard dividing his attention between the bar, to make sure he has a business to come back to, and the side projects, which make sure his bills are paid. 

“But at the end of the day, there's only so many hours in the week,” he said. “So it's always kind of a juggling act balancing making sure I’m putting in enough hours at the business to make sure that it’s going to survive. … My goal is to make sure my crew stays employed and fed, ’cause you know, they have rent and bills, too.”

Ms. Briq House, a burlesque performer and LGTBQIA advocate, sits on the back patio of her home while doing a video chat, surrounded by items that inspire her work. Since the pandemic began, many of the in-person aspects of her career have evaporated, so she has focused her attention online. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Going virtual

Ms. Briq House is a burlesque performer, professional dominant and sex-work and LGBTQIA advocate. When COVID-19 shut down public gatherings and venues, she had to find creative ways to support herself. She pivoted online: performing virtual burlesque shows and dominance work, selling portraits of herself on her website, as well as starting consultations for sensual life coaching. 

Moving something like burlesque online takes a lot of money and space, which are both hard to come by and have come with steep learning curves, Ms. Briq House said.

“Burlesque is best in person because you can feel the energy and love a lot more,” she said. Online sex work, which she says can sometimes be awkward, also presents unique challenges. “My presence is very big and larger in person, and trying to convey that through a computer screen is a challenge that I have overcome,” she said.

Additionally, Ms. Briq House has taken on child care gigs, something she had done part-time prepandemic but is now finding to be in greater demand as parents navigate this new normal.

“It is literally impossible for single parents and a lot of people don’t want to put their kids in child care,” she said. “It’s been awesome to help families and especially single black mothers and sex workers because my folks need it the most.”

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When Washington’s stay-home order was put in place, Ms. Briq House said the effects were sudden – in an instant her primary way of supporting herself was gone.

“It was hard for me to be creative, which I am good at being creative,” she said, “but when you are trying to survive, you don’t have time to be creative and do the work I am the best at.”

Friends started a GoFundMe for her and encouraged her to embrace it. She resisted accepting help at first, but changed her mind when she realized, she said, being honest with herself and asking for help was OK. In the process, it helped her see how much of an impact she was having in her community.

“I think when the pandemic hit, I thought ‘What am I doing? Am I even having an impact?,’ ’’ she said. “The way people have shown up and shared with me about how I have impacted them ... I have been mind blown by the support from people who I had no idea I had touched in that way.”

Seattle couple Mark Galambos and Maya Tacon sit with their dog, Hazel, and some bottles from their new hot sauce venture, MF Thang Hot Sauce, on a picnic table at Discovery Park in Seattle. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

The hot sauce people

When Maya Tacon and Mark Galambos lost their jobs in March, they quickly realized they needed to channel their energy somewhere else.

The couple leaned into what they knew — Tacon is a Pilates instructor and Dance Church teacher, and Galambos is a chef — so they launched “Pilates + Sauce.” Tacon would teach a Pilates class over Zoom (rated mild, medium and spicy), while Galambos would hand deliver a homemade hot sauce pairing of corresponding spiciness to Tacon's students.

The hot sauce picked up a little more traction than the classes themselves, so the duo decided to put all of their efforts into their sauce business, which they rebranded MF Thang Hot Sauce, under the tagline “Bringing the heat since quarantine 2020.”

“We had no expectations of where it would go, but it was just fun to do together when we didn't have any other structure really,” Galambos said.

The team started leaning on each other’s connections to help sell the sauce and, as demand grew, they hired a friend to design labels for the bottles. They now sell about 20 bottles a week. Sometimes more.

“It just kind of cultivated this nice sense of inclusion and having multiple people be in on a project together,” Galambos said. “Seeing people face to face again — some I haven't even seen for years — is probably the most important part of all of this.”

Back home, Tacon describes their refrigerator as about 85% hot sauce and maybe some lettuce. Galambos added that their apartment has a “funky, peppery” taste to it. “It is definitely a part of our lives … huge containers of sauce everywhere.”

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About the Authors & Contributors

Matt M. McKnight

Matt M. McKnight

Matt McKnight is formerly a visual journalist at Crosscut, where he covered a variety of political, social and environmental issues around the Pacific Northwest.

Dorothy Edwards

Dorothy Edwards

Dorothy Edwards is formerly an associate photo editor at Crosscut.