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A bakery and consignment shop opened in Centre County despite the pandemic. They're thriving

jess dolan and david anderson
Photos provided
David Anderson and Jessica Dolan both launched businesses in Centre County during the pandemic that offered zero-contact services.

About five days a week, David Anderson either stays up late after work or wakes up around 3 a.m. to mill flour and prepare dough for handmade bread, bagels and pizza crusts in his Bellefonte home kitchen.

“I’m gonna fire up Milly here, my grain mill, and we’ll put some wheat through it. And then we’ll start working on measuring out the rest of the ingredients for the loaves,” Anderson said as he began to mill dough for his bread loaves.

Anderson works as a chef at Penn State. But as a side gig, he’s become the Bellefonte Bread Baker. He launched the one-man business two years ago, during the onset of the pandemic. Every Saturday he drops off his freshly baked sourdough goodies at dozens of houses in Bellefonte and State College. He said it was actually his wife’s idea. At first, he didn’t think much of it, but eventually…

“...my wife has a way of getting into my head, and so, the more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by it. I started selling bread slowly to friends and family and it just kind of got out of control,” Anderson said.

david anderson car
David Anderson
David Anderson’s car filled up with Bellefonte Bread Baker items. Anderson currently provides home deliveries to homes in Bellefonte and State College.

Many small businesses have struggled as a result of COVID-19. According to data collected by the United States Census Bureau in mid-April, about 65% of small business owners said the pandemic either had a “large” or “moderate” negative effect on their business.

But some entrepreneurs, like Anderson, have created businesses that are thriving because they respond to pandemic-created needs. Anderson said his delivery-based business model actually benefitted from the widespread use of zero-contact deliveries triggered by COVID-19.

“Because it happened while we were knee deep in the pandemic, not a lot of people were going out. Delivery was something that I think people were a lot more comfortable with, so that’s how it started. And I think that’s really what grew the business,” Anderson said.

Anderson is not the only local entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to offer zero-contact services during the pandemic. Jessica Dolan lives in Boalsburg and has 20 years of experience in home organizing, real estate staging and senior downsizing. She said many people began to reorganize and declutter their homes during the pandemic but had nowhere to sell or even donate their belongings.

“Goodwill and St. Vincent’s de Paul and some of those places had stopped taking furniture. So, there was kind of a conundrum of, ‘Well, what am I going to do with all this furniture I don’t want?’” Dolan said.

Dolan said that inspired her to offer contact-free pick-ups.

“I started just telling everybody, ‘Hey, put your stuff out in the driveway or in the garage, I’ll back in, you don’t even have to talk to me, see me, nothing. I’ll pick everything up with the understanding you know I’m either gonna sell some things, I’ll donate things to different charities, whatever.’ And everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, we don’t care what you do with it. Just come get it,’” Dolan said.

Dolan said she initially started selling the furniture and vintage items out of her house, but it quickly became overrun. So, she bought a building in State College and opened her store Arcadian Consignment, where people can sell their specialty pieces through her. Now, about half a year in, Dolan said interest from both buyers and sellers is very high.

“Now the store, it’s 3,000 square feet and I didn’t think we would have to expand for at least two to four years, and we already need more space. It’s been crazy,” Dolan said.

arcadian consignment dolan
Jessica Dolan
Jessica Dolan adjusting a display at her store Arcadian Consignment, where people can buy and sell specialty pieces.

Jeanette Miller is a professor of entrepreneurship at Penn State. She said while zero-contact services like deliveries and self-checkout payment options were available before the pandemic, COVID expedited the transition from traditional shopping habits to new ones.

“There’s the issue with, the pandemic has changed individuals’ comfort levels, but the technology and the innovation is there already. So, that innovation is being adopted in a more rapid fashion,” Miller said.

Miller said newer purchasing methods will likely remain, even as the pandemic slows down.

The new ways of doing business can be good for business owners, too. Anderson said the bakery was inexpensive to launch and paid for itself quickly.

“I started off with a $5 investment. I mean, the cost of the flour, and that was pretty much it from the beginning,” Anderson said.

Starting Arcadian Consignment was a more costly venture. Dolan had to purchase a building for the store, but she said it helped that rates were down due to the pandemic.

“For me, I was buying a commercial building. So, the rates were low. And that was great. That really made it somewhat more affordable. Still a big purchase, but that helped a lot,” Dolan said.

Miller said a startup’s success does not solely rely on a great product, but also the entrepreneur’s story.

“It’s the entrepreneur themselves that’s selling. It’s looking at their journey as much as it is the product,” Miller said.

Anderson said his 30 years of experience in professional kitchens and his passion for baking have helped his business operations. He said he’s floored by the positive customer feedback, and even gets handwritten cards from his customers’ children who look forward to the "Saturday bagel man."

Bellefonte Bread Baker bagels
David Anderson
Anderson said his bagels are one of the bakery's most popular items. He said the bagels on his website typically sell out within hours.

“Actually, it’s been kind of emotional because they’ve talked about how the bread and the bagels and things that I’ve delivered have been a comforting portion living through the pandemic,” Anderson said.

Dolan said watching customers enjoy the store has been satisfying.

“I’ve been listening to people, eavesdropping a little bit, and I hear things like, ‘Oh my gosh, State College needed a store like this. Oh my gosh, this is so beautiful. This is so great,” Dolan said.

Both Anderson and Dolan think the demand for their products will remain steady after the pandemic. The two entrepreneurs each hope to expand their businesses in the future.