Home Community/Human Interest How These NJ Natives Reinvented Themselves During the Pandemic

How These NJ Natives Reinvented Themselves During the Pandemic

by James Barrett
new jersey pandemic

It’s hard to think back to when the terms COVID-19, social distancing and the phrase “wear your mask” weren’t in our everyday vocabulary. Do you remember how you spent your final weeks before the unexpected lockdown in March 2020? Months in solitude during quarantine gave us time to reflect on what we really value and how we want to spend our time. 

Amidst the dark and lonely days of 2020 and navigating a “new normal,” many took time to change their lives in unanticipated ways. I interviewed New Jersey natives who have had a career shift, prioritized a new hobby or launched a small business venture as a direct effect of the pandemic. 

This family trio has taken their passion project for mid-century furniture to the next level by launching Hardcore Vintage during the pandemic. 

Sisters Angela and Nina Poccia grew up antiquing in northern New Jersey with their parents. During the lockdown, the pair would regularly check Facebook marketplace in the Central New Jersey area for cool finds along with Nina’s boyfriend, Domenick D’Agostino. With more people stuck at home, the trio found an opportunity to turn their eye for vintage into a small business. 

new jersey pandemic business

Sisters Angela and Nina Poccia of Hardcore Vintage

Hardcore Vintage is a passion project we built together. Our love for mid-century furniture and the thrill of antiquing transformed into something of our own. We have a lot of crazy furniture pickup stories and laughs between us. Our neighbors think we are crazy when we are up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday moving credenzas,” Angela says. 

While each member works full-time outside of Hardcore Vintage, their nights and weekends include negotiating, moving furniture and helping unwanted pieces find a new home. The team participated in their first pop-up event in Maplewood in December and plan to continue to spread their footprint. 

D’Agostino tells me, “We have a ton of fun when we go hunting for furniture. You never know what you are about to walk into when going on a haul. We have met tons of interesting people and seen awesome places that we might have never explored before. We have already outperformed our expectations and it’s exciting to see where we will be in the future.”

nj vintage store

Domenick D’Agostino of Hardcore Vintage

Business aside, Nina has valued how her time is now spent, including early morning pickup runs. She explains, “Hardcore has allowed me to spend more time with my family than pre-pandemic. We’ve learned new technical skills along with teamwork. We’ve had big successes but also have learned a lot from our mistakes. Hardcore would not be as successful and fun without Dom and Angela as we each bring something to the table.” The team hopes to one day open a storefront and continue to expand their small business in new ways. 

My father Michael retired early during the lockdown and found joy in recording and narrating audiobooks. 

Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too old to take up a new hobby. Michael Barrett retired in June 2020 after a 40-year career in IT and computer programming as a direct result of the pandemic.  

“I had an interest in voice-over and narrating and began to heavily research and eventually buy recording software and equipment in late 2020. Since I was a programmer, learning the recording software was not a huge undertaking. Not only have I been doing the narrating, but I edit my own audio files too,” Michael shares.  

Almost a year into voice-overs, he starts his day by looking for auditions for books. He will then will record a few pages to submit. Specializing in non-fiction books such as “The Hunter Equation: Secret Whisperings from God and the Universe,” Michael has read more stories on topics that he might not have been interested in reading on his own. “I’m exposed to different thoughts and opinions and subjects such as cryptocurrencies. I am a more well-rounded person because I was never an avid reader,” he says.

new jersey pandemic

New Jersey resident Michael Barrett in his at-home recording studio

He plans to continue to grow his portfolio of books which can one day turn lucrative. “I enjoy narrating the books, seeing my name on the ones that make it to Audible, and discussing my new hobby with people since most have no idea about narrating and producing audiobooks. I will continue narrating because it is unique, interesting, rewarding and fun,” Michael concludes. 

Young professional Marika Tsamutalis learned how to make homemade bagels with the hopes of opening her own cafe one day.

Like most, Tsamutalis felt uncertain and down throughout the early months of the pandemic. She knew she wanted to pursue something new that she was passionate about, but didn’t know what. 

“I sat and wrote down things that made me happy. Making my friends and family feel loved was top on my list. Growing up in a close-knit Greek household, I was always surrounded by friends, family and most importantly—food. It was how my yiayia showed love in its purest form and it was something that connected everyone. We all love to eat,” she explains.

nj home baker

Marika Tsamutalis making homemade bagels

However, as a financial analyst, Tsamutalis’ pre-pandemic schedule never allowed her to spend time in the kitchen. Without any prior experience making bagels, she looked up videos online as she was inspired by other small businesses. She even took a job on the weekends at a bagel shop in Hoboken to learn the ropes. 

With hopes of turning this newfound hobby into a full-fledged business one day, Tsamutalis has already given back to her community through her craft. She tells me, “I ran the New York City Marathon through Back on My Feet, an organization that combats homelessness through the power of fitness, community support, and essential employment and housing resources. I was able to raise money for Back on My Feet by making bagels, which gave meaning to creating bagels. I loved sharing them with friends, hosting brunches, and getting feedback on where I could improve. It’s fun spending time trying out new flavors and taking bagels to the next level.” 

new jersey bagels

Bagels for the New York City Marathon

Tasmutalis documents her journey on Instagram and asks followers for unique flavor suggestions including a feta cheese braided bagel. “It feels rewarding to create something from scratch and to make people around me happy.  It has made me appreciate things I used to take for granted,” she concludes. 

If a bump in the road has taught us anything—as it has with Angela, Nina, Domenick, Michael and Marika—it’s that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Sometimes our greatest moments and opportunities to find inspiration come from bleak situations. We can’t always control what comes our way, but we can choose where to go from there. 

Enjoyed this story about New Jersey natives starting over as a result of the pandemic? Let us know in the comments.

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